Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
||+ Seal B
[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.
For edition and dating characteristics applicable to the entire series, see the Editions article.]
Indentification of this design as number 123 is original to Rakusan who designated this woodblock print as the 123rd design published in his main sequence.
However, 123 is actually the twenty-third of thirty-six woodblock prints in Rakusan's second main sequence series,
篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen
, lit. 'Koushisei's Print Selection' (usually called here the 36 Series
The woodblock print of 123 was adapted from an actual-size original painting on silk.
All of the original prototype paintings for this series are currently in a single private collection.
[Images of this painting 123-0 will eventually be posted here.]
Like most 36 Series designs 123 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy.
Therefore, for 123 only a single extended edition I (which includes reprintings both before and after World War II) can be distinguished.
It is usually only possible to date an individual loose print of 123 with edition I markings by listing approximate potential ranges of 1934-1941 and 1948-1955.
The copy illustrated above is typical of edition I (except for a cursive Rakusan romaji signature added later in the lower edge).
The earliest 36 Series prints were delivered tipped into recessed wells of presentation sheets embossed in their lower margins with the series title.
Because all early edition I prints once had these presentation sheets, a copy which retains its presentation sheet must have been printed during the 1930s.
After his supply of presentation sheets was exhausted, Rakusan distributed subsequently-reprinted copies loose.
A limited number of leftover earlier-printed copies of some designs on presentation sheets were still being distributed shortly after World War II, but by then most designs were only available as loose sheets.
However, absence of presentation sheets is not diagnostic of later printings because many early prints have subsequently been detached from theirs.
123 is one of the very few Rakusan designs for which any printing details exist.
The Foster booklet reports that 123 required 37 printing impressions to complete.
Other Foster Information:
123 is among the most familiar Rakusan designs because of Walter Foster.
Foster included reduced-size reproductions of four sheets of a process set of 123 on page 8 of his booklet,
together with instructions on how to copy it as a drawing and watercolor painting.
(This important process set is discussed more fully in the Process Set article
As advertised in the booklet, Foster initially offered original 9" x 14" woodblock prints of 123 for $6.
Sometimes offered for sale today as reproductions of 123 are actually copies of page 8 cut from the Foster booklet.
Oddly, Foster makes no reference to 123 being part of a series of designs although he surely knew it was.
Foster made up titles of his own to use in the booklet, and most are inaccurate at best.
Here he called 123, "Bird on Limb".
[For additional general information on Foster, the booklet, or the fine art reproductions, see the Foster article.]
The Rakusan project which produced 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen
, resulted in two related series of woodblock prints.
Each print of the 36 Series
is intimately connected to a group of prints with the same subjects in the Fan Series
Together these subject-related prints in the two series constitute a theme.
Each theme typically consists of a quintet of monochrome Fan Series
designs (one design in each of the five fan shapes), plus one polychrome,
design which illustrates the theme subject.
The theme is labeled here by the original Rakusan number of its 36 Series
design followed by the subject.
123 is the 36 Series
design of the 123 Red Plum
The 123 Red Plum theme is one of three different themes based on flowering plums. (The other two are 122 Wild Plum and 124 Bonsai Plum.) Because the Fan Series prints for all three of these themes were delivered as a single installment, it has proven very difficult to assign the individual, loose, flowering plum designs to their appropriate themes. In monochrome prints the color of plum blossoms is uncertain, and of course a bonsai plum can be any color. However, there are exactly three designs of each fan shape, and there is no evidence that the installment consists of anything other than three entirely regular themes each with a complete Fan Series quintet.
The publication of the flowering plum Fan Series installment is very well documented.
The delivery documents for installment seven in October 1934 list the three plum themes in a preview announcement for the installment due the following month. Those for installment eight confirm that the Fan Series woodblock prints for all three plum themes were printed during November 1934 and were distributed November 22, 1934 as installment eight (of twelve).
Rakusan used the same three theme titles on both sets of delivery documents: 野梅, ya-bai, 'wild plum'; 紅梅, kou-bai, 'red plum'; and 盆梅, bon-bai, 'bonsai plum'. These are also the titles of their corresponding 36 Series designs published at the same time.
The theme assignment issues and the signature and seal markings of the flowering plum designs suggest that their Fan Series prints are best considered together as a single unit of fifteen designs.
Fully thirteen of the fifteen Fan Series designs have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934.
The other two Fan Series designs have rare minor seals, one example each of seal Q and of seal R. They may possibly date from the seal A period around the third quarter of 1933, however assignment to the seal C period (which would make all of the flowering plum Fan Series designs contemporaneous) cannot be ruled out. The 36 Series bonsai plum design, 124, is the sole woodblock print example of minor seal D whose carving period is assigned to the seal C period.
After preparing the wooden blocks for these relatively early designs, Rakusan set them aside for several months.
The remaining two 36 Series flowering plum designs, 122 and 123, have seal B which indicates they were not carved until somewhat later, and perhaps only shortly before their publication.
Rakusan was aware of the problem of recognizing the theme assignments for the individual flowering plum Fan Series designs. He decided to label the first Fan Series print of two of the three themes with a theme title incorporated into the design.
Because Rakusan put these exceptional titles on designs of the same fan shape, that shape was defined here as fan shape 1 for the entire series.
Corresponding to 36 Series design 123 is Fan Series design 123-1 which incorporates the title 紅梅之圖, kou-bai no zu, Red Plum Pictures, [之圖 would now be written の図].
Rakusan was otherwise relying only on his original distribution arrangement to keep the themes separate.
He would have arranged the prints so that the subscriber received each of the three theme sets in the proper order with each of the first two themes beginning with a fan shape 1 design with a title. (The third set has no title on its fan shape 1 design.)
Unfortunately, since the prints were delivered loose, and were thus easily rearranged, that original delivery order has not been reliably preserved in any surviving collection.
Rakusan had published four flowering plum designs in the previous 100 Series, 4, 22, 63, and 89.
Certainly many later flowering plum theme designs were adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of those earlier woodblock prints.
Interestingly, the order in which the three 36 Series designs were first published reflects the order in which their most closely similar 100 Series designs appeared:
122 is the same variety as 4; 123 is the same as 22 (and 22alt); and 124 is the same as 63. (However, there are no plum theme designs which closely correspond to 89.)
Japanese Plum-Apricot (usually called Plum), Prunus mume
, 梅, うめ, ウメ, ume
, is a Japanese native flowering fruit tree.
It has been extensively hybridized and selected, and there are many forms and colors.
As one of the earliest blooming trees, it is a beloved cultural symbol of the turning of the seasons when it blooms in the winter and early spring.
野梅 ya-bai or no-ume, lit. 'field plum', is the general name for any kind of wild plum.
Most wild trees have white single flowers, but often a few double blossoms appear on the same tree.
Selection for this trait has resulted an array of forms with single, semi-double, and double blooms.
As with other flowering fruit trees weeping forms have also been created.
A few wild plums have varying amounts of red pigment in the wood, shoots, and flowers; and this trait has also been encouraged in breeding.
These pigmented forms are collectively called by a different name, Red Plum, 紅梅, こうばい, コウバイ, kou-bai, lit. 'red plum', but are actually the same species.
(The descriptor 紅 may be read either as beni or as kou, and can mean a wide range of colors from crimson-red through rose to pale pink, depending on the context.
Although conventionally translated into English as Red Plum, many familiar 紅梅 flowers are actually pink.)
The old growth of plum trees is often embellished with lichen and fungi in these prints, and a few have evidence of small animal life.
In 123 and a few other plum fan designs currently assigned to this theme (123-1, 123-3, 123-5), small, striped, mounded gray ovals are shown adhering to the tree bark. These also occur on designs 4 and 62 in the 100 Series.
They are over-wintering adults of a kind of small ladybird beetle (family Coccinellidae) whose larvae are major predators of scale-insects. Their general name is 天道虫, 瓢虫, 紅娘, てんとう虫, てんとうむし, テントウムシ, tentoumushi. The particular species Rakusan illustrates is probably Chilocorus rubidus, 赤星天道虫, 赤星瓢虫, あかほしてんとうむし, アカホシテントウムシ, aka-hoshi tentoumushi, lit. 'red-spot ladybird-beetle'. Most of the time these small beetles are firmly attached to plum, peach, or other ornamental trees.
There are six beetles in 123, including one which the tit is probing.
Varied Tit, Parus varius, 山雀, やまがら, ヤマガラ, yama-gara, lit. 'mountain tit', is a familiar native species.
Rakusan was fond of portraying these active little birds, and they occur in several different designs.