Plum & Peacock (woodblock print)

Temporary Number


Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I: 楽山 Raku-zan + Seal P

[For illustration of seals, see the Seals article.]

Design History:
Although T1 is relatively commonly encountered, not much is certainly known about it. It is not part of any known series and its style is not characteristic of Rakusan's mature works. Questions have been raised about its authenticity, but there are no firm reasons to believe that T1 is not by Rakusan.

The T1 woodblock print is one third the size of the normal Rakusan double-oban sheets. The paper has chain-lines similar to other stocks of paper used by Rakusan later on. The kanji signature is comparable to other genuine Rakusan signatures. Although seal P has not been found on any other artwork, there are many such unique Rakusan seals, and seal P is not otherwise exceptional.

The most likely explanation is that T1 is a very early work by Rakusan. The print makes use of gold-colored metallic pigments which were increasingly unavailable after the mid 1930s. From 1929 through 1935 Rakusan was busy printing his major series and there is no evidence of unrelated woodblock prints being made during that time. Rakusan opened his studio in about 1925, but the first acknowledged woodblock print from his studio appeared only in early 1929. However, it is known that there were some Rakusan prints produced before 1929. Although no record of T1 exists in the Tsuchiya Family collection, there are also no records there of the indisputably genuine Western Flowers designs he produced for Maria Gabo. Rakusan is known to have drastically edited his own holdings on several occasions, and especially if T1 was an early outside work, it might not have passed later reviews.

One strong reason why Rakusan may have suppressed records of T1 is that like Western Flowers the design is derived directly from the work of other artists. It is also in a deliberately archaic style totally unlike what was to become Rakusan's trademark style. The early 1920s saw a wide array of similar plum and peafowl prints produced by the large printing houses. Those prints were very popular, sold well, and remain available in large numbers today. Rakusan was often quoted on the difficulty of printing with bokashi techniques. It is entirely possible that he wanted to demonstrate his command of that skill, as well as to share in the lucrative sales. In any event, the background bokashi colors and placements on the Rakusan version are identical to those in an earlier similar work by Ito Sozan for Watanabe from the early 1920s. However, the bird more resembles corresponding Koson designs for Watanabe from slightly later. The signature and seal placement of the Sozan and Rakusan versions are the same and both signatures include 山 zan. The similarities are sufficiently close that the two prints are sometimes mistaken one for the other.

Plum & Peacock by Ito Sozan ca. early 1920s for Watanabe

Species Illustrated:
Japanese Plum-apricot, often called 'Wild Plum', Prunus mume is ubiquitous in Japan. 野梅, ya-bai (or no-ume), lit. 'field plum', is the general name for any kind of wild plum, but usually refers to the white-flowering varieties of Prunus mume .

In Japan all peafowl are called 孔雀, クジャク, kujaku, regardless of species. Although no peafowl species is native to Japan, two species were long ago imported as exotics and have naturalized in parks and gardens. The Green Peafowl, Pavo muticus, is usually today distinguished as 真孔雀, マクジャク, ma-kujaku, lit. 'true peafowl' indicating the most commonly encountered species.

Related Designs:
Other designs of green peafowl:
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