[modernly supplied title]


tessen ni tonbo

Clematis and [Skimmer] Dragonfly


Assigned Number / 規定番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

133 Clematis Theme / 133 テッセン画題

Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I (only edition): 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B

[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.]

Series History and Definitions:
During the two years between mid 1933 and mid 1935 Rakusan produced a series of 180 individual woodblock-printed fan designs. These fan designs are printed as negative images with a single impression of black ink. Although all are actually woodblock prints, this traditional negative-image printing style is called 石摺(り), ishi-zuri, lit. 'stone rubbing', from its superficial resemblance to that technique. Rakusan called this series 篁子生石摺画選, Koushisei Ishizuri Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Stone-rubbing Print Selection', but it is usually called here the Fan Series.

Rakusan arranged the Fan Series prints into shared-subject groups typically consisting of one design in each of five different fan silhouette shapes. Each of these groups of Fan Series designs are united by a corresponding polychrome 36 Series design which defines the subject. Each shared-subject Fan Series group and its 36 Series design together comprise a theme (画題, gadai).

Rakusan did not include the Fan Series in his main sequence numbering. Therefore, the original number used for each of the 36 Series prints has been modified to identify the Fan Series members of its theme. The five different fan silhouette shapes have been here assigned arbitrary numbers 1 through 5. To indicate a fan design these shape designations are added to the 36 Series number separated by a hyphen. 133-5 is the Fan Series design with fan shape 5 in the 133 Clematis theme. Like all other designs in this series, 133-5 was only produced in a single print run, and few copies are currently documented.

Theme History:
The 133 Clematis theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. The Fan Series prints of the 133 Clematis theme were distributed in early 1935 in installment eleven (of twelve), but the delivery documents for installment eleven remain to be discovered. The series as originally announced would have seen this installment published in November 1934. However, with documented delays the earliest month it could actually have been delivered is February 1935, and it may well have been even further delayed.

The signature and seal markings suggest that the designs in the 133 Clematis theme were produced in at least two stages. Two of the five fan designs in this theme and the 36 Series design 133 have seal C which indicates a carving date during the first half of 1934. Despite the early completion of some of its wooden blocks, Rakusan delayed printing and distribution of the prints in what became the 133 Clematis theme until the following year. It was eventually grouped with other summer season themes nearer to the end of the series. The other three fan designs (including 133-5) have seal B which suggests that those designs were carved closer to the time of publication.

The designs of the 133 Clematis theme (and of the immediately preceding 132 Changeable Rosemallow theme) look very different from others in this series. These two themes include most of the examples in this project where Rakusan openly experimented with mining an external source for his designs. The majority of the designs in each of these two themes were taken directly from ones found in the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Painting, 十竹斎書画譜, Jitchikusai Shogafu, a very famous and influential design book (here abbreviated TBS). First produced in China in the 17th century, TBS has been reproduced and reprinted in both China and Japan many times since. Rakusan would likely have used one of the later Japanese translations. In homage to this very well known source, Rakusan presented his Fan Series designs of these two themes in the original TBS style rather than in his own. (This experiment also included a scattering of additional designs in other themes. An article exploring all of Rakusan's adaptations from TBS is in preparation.)

In the 133 Clematis theme, three of the five Fan Series designs are taken directly from TBS, and the other two (including 133-4) are original designs which are only partially in the TBS style. The 36 Series design 133 is also taken in part from TBS, but has been adapted in Rakusan's own style.

133-5 is an original Rakusan composition, and only the style of the flowers and leaves (which most resembles that of 133-3) recalls TBS. The design shows a skimmer dragonfly sitting on the end of a bamboo stake. A few sprays of clematis vine with two flowers and two buds are below. The inclusion of a bamboo support for the vine indicates a garden setting. The dragonfly and the blossom parts are very finely scribed, and the rest of the elements are in a very loose, silhouetted style.

The woodblock print of 133-5 was modeled closely on an actual-size original sumi sketch which although lost can be reconstructed by digitally reversing the image of the woodblock print:

133-5 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

Species Illustrated:
Chinese Clematis (Leather Flower), Clematis florida, 鉄線, てっせん, テッセン, tessen, is a common garden flower in Japan. Today, with the many hybrid varieties, all clematis may be referred to as くれまちす, クレマチス, kuremachisu, from the Latin and English names. The original species Rakusan illustrates here has pale blue flowers.

The general name for all dragonflies is 蜻蛉, とんぼ, トンボ, tonbo, 'dragonfly'. This name is also used in a technical sense for members of the huge, cosmopolitan family Libellulidae which are often called skimmers in English. The only dragonflies Rakusan includes in any of his woodblock print designs are medium-sized skimmer dragonflies. Many Japanese species of skimmer dragonfly have transparent wings with a small rice-grain-shaped dark spot on the leading edge of each wing near the outer end. This feature can be seen in all of the Rakusan woodblock print images of dragonflies (including 133-5 where it is shown in outline only).

Several kinds of skimmer dragonflies in the genus Sympetrum (also called darters in English) have males with red bodies and therefore are informally known as 茜(蜻蛉), あかね(とんぼ), アカネ(トンボ), akane (tonbo), lit. 'madder-red (dragonfly)'; or 赤蜻蛉, あかとんぼ, アカトンボ, aka-tonbo, lit. 'red dragonfly'. However, although the bodies of the red darter males are solid red, the bodies of the females (and those of many other skimmers) are yellow with brown or black stripes, bands, or other markings.

The only secure identification of a Rakusan dragonfly species is a red darter dragonfly illustrated in the 36 Series design 113. This species, Sympetrum baccha matutinum, lacks a common name in English. Its Japanese name is 小熨斗目蜻蛉, このしめとんぼ, コノシメトンボ, ko noshime-tonbo, lit. 'small noshime dragonfly'. (A noshime is a kind of ceremonial dress.) It differs from the other red darters in having a dark red-brown or black patch covering the entire outer end of each transparent wing (instead of just the small spot). However, presumably for easier printing, Rakusan took artistic license in depicting this species in 113. He used the same magenta reds which predominate in the cockscomb flowers for the dragonfly bodies (making them appear male), and also for the large wing tip patches. As a result, the small dark spot which would in life have merged with the darker wing tip patches is still visible.

In addition to the dragonfly in the 36 Series design 113, two Fan Series designs in the 113 Cockscomb theme also include skimmer dragonflies. However, neither these two (nor any other Rakusan dragonflies) can be the same species as in 113. Other identification is largely speculative. There are five other skimmer dragonflies which occur in monochrome fan designs; so only the patterns (if any) are available for identification. 113-2 and 133-5 are simple line drawings which lack further diagnostic details. 113-4 and 106-4 have markings on the body that suggest those skimmers are female, and the solid color body in 128-1 suggests a male. All of these other examples could be any of several closely similar skimmer species. One representative red darter candidate would likely have appealed to Rakusan since it is a common endemic, Autumn Darter, Sympetrum frequens, 秋茜, アキアカネ, aki akane, lit. 'autumn madder-red'. Another possibility would be a skimmer species in the genus Orthetrum such as Common (White-tailed) Skimmer, Orthetrum albistylum speciosum, 塩辛蜻蛉, シオカラトンボ, shiokara tonbo, lit. 'salt-spicy dragonfly'.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 133 Clematis theme:
133-1 133-2 133-3 133-4 133

Other designs with dragonflies:
106-4 113-2 113-4 113 128-1