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series cover label



later markings:
"So-un" (left); "Rakusan" (right)



later markings:
"Hodo" signature;
Takemura seal
洋草花譜
You Souka Fu
Western Flowers Series

In the late 1920s the Kyoto printer-publisher マリア画房, Maria Gabou, planned production of a major woodblock print series based on several floral paintings by the famous local artist 千種掃雲, Chigusa Sou-un. Because there were not enough available So-un paintings for a large series, Maria Gabo commissioned Rakusan to create additional designs. Rakusan was to paint in the exact style of So-un so that all of the designs in the full series would look alike. Deliberately, neither artist was mentioned in the series title 洋草花譜, You Souka Fu, Western Flowers Series. Also the prints were issued without signatures or seals; letting the recognizable So-un style suggest his authorship. Technically there was no deception since participation of both artists was explicitly acknowledged in the publication information in the various selection colophons.

Rakusan delivered his paintings circa 1926-1928 and subsequently had no further part or interest in the project. By then he was wholly preoccupied with printing and publishing from his own studio in his own style. Rakusan did not print these floral designs; nor did he publish, distribute, or advertise them. Maria Gabo issued their prints gradually over several years until by October 1931 sets of up to forty-eight principal designs and a supplemental set of fifteen related designs were available. Each design in the supplemental set includes a silhouette taken directly from a specific design in the principal series. These are combined with new elements usually involving the same kinds of flowers included in the principal series, but a few new kinds are also included. A small number of additional new main series designs appeared with later reprintings dated December 1933 and April 1936. Sets and partial set selections were offered pre-bound or as loose sheets at least as late as 1940.

Any indication of which of the two artists painted which designs, and of how many designs each contributed, was soon lost or forgotten. By the 1936 reprinting Maria Gabo had begun producing copies of Western Flowers Series prints with signatures and seals indicating So-un or Rakusan authorship (see examples at center left and Seals article). However, different batches of copies of the same designs were at some times given "So-un" markings and at other times "Rakusan" ones. This relaxed approach effectively removes any confidence in the accuracy of any of these later Maria Gabo "So-un" and "Rakusan" attribution markings, and regrettably they all must be set aside as unreliable indicators of authorship.

Between 1937 and 1941 the Yokohama printer-publisher 竹村秀雄, Takemura Hideo, produced and sold a different new series of at least twenty floral woodblock prints derived from (and intentionally in direct imitation of) the earlier successful Maria Gabo series. (Images and a brief discussion of that new series appear on this website as Hodo-Takemura Floral Series.) The two closely similar series are easily and often confused since the Takemura series prints were also originally produced without artist markings within the image. Subsequently, Takemura began additionally marking their series prints with the artist signature 蒲堂, Hodou, together with a Takemura seal. During the 1930s 西村蒲堂, Nishimura Hodou, was one of the house artists for Takemura, and use of his signature suggests he authored this derivative series.

The Takemura company sold prints from many publishers, and evidently some Takemura inventory batches of unmarked Maria Gabo prints were also accidentally swept up in this secondary marking effort. As a confusing result, individual print copies of some of the same Maria Gabo designs may be encountered not only unmarked, or with Maria Gabo "So-un" or "Rakusan" markings, but also occasionally with erroneous "Hodo-Takemura" markings! (See example at lower left.) Note that the genuine Hodo-Takemura Floral Series prints always have additional Takemura markings not found on Maria Gabo prints. (See Hodo-Takemura Floral Series. for additional discussion of those markings.)

Each Maria Gabo design is known in up to four or perhaps five different versions representing different edition reprintings:

Version I: The original printing typically has a background with a subtle overall bokashi. In the lower margin is a woodblock printed title in Western letters and transliterated into katakana. This version never has signature or seal markings.

Version II: The early discovery that the Western letter titles were frequently misspelled led to the omission of the entire title in all subsequent reprintings. The designs in version II closely resemble those of version I although there are very slight variations in ink colors which are usually unnoticeable short of side by side comparison. The shift from version I (with titles) to version II (without titles) was gradual as individual designs were reprinted as needed. As a result, some sets were distributed with mixtures of version I and version II prints. It is uncertain whether some version II prints were ever attribution marked, or if all prints which include signatures and seals should be assigned to later versions.

Version III: Not all designs are known from later versions, and the order in which those appeared is conjectural. Until more information becomes available, in this gallery and on its subpages the various later versions have been temporarily subsumed into a heterogenous single version III. All of the later version examples currently known have one of the various signature and seal combinations. In addition the colors are typically stronger and harsher and the background is simplified. An original overall bokashi background is usually either reduced in area, rearranged as halos around some of the blossoms, or omitted entirely. Some designs have three or more such later variants.

[This brief introduction is taken from a longer article to appear here in the future. The design images and brief subpages are presented first in hopes that this generally unavailable data will prove useful. No original inventory numbering is known for this series. The temporarily assigned numbering used here is the order in one of the bound sets in the Project collections, but the binding order of such sets is somewhat variable. Please do contact us if you have questions or wish to offer information not included here.]

[Click on the thumbnail to bring up a subpage which includes a larger image of the design, additional details and images, and links to related designs.]




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SUPPLEMENTAL SET


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© 2011, 2012 (latest revision © 2015) Dr Michael J P Nichols

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