Currently Documented Edition Watermark and Signature and Seal Markings:
||+ Seal F
||+ Seal F
||+ Seal B
||[no seal on final process set sheet]
||+ Seal F
||[posthumous Unsōdō reprints]
Rakusan changed the placement of the signature and seal for each of the original three editions. In edition I they are at lower right well within the foliage (as in the image above). In edition II they are raised somewhat such that only the first kanji character of the signature is above the leaves. In edition III they are raised still further such that the first four kanji are above the leaves. For edition IV Unsōdō returned the signature and seal to the original location used in edition I. (Examples from all four editions are illustrated below.)
[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.
For edition characteristics applicable to this series as a whole, see the Edition article.]
This woodblock print was produced from an original painting on silk dating from the late 1920s whose current location is unknown.
The indentification of this design as number 2 is original to Rakusan who published the print as the 2nd design in his series of one hundred woodblock prints called 楽山花鳥畫譜, Rakuzan Kachou Gafu
, lit. 'Rakusan's Flower and Bird Print Series'. 2 has been reprinted several times in four editions and is among the best known and most numerously attested Rakusan designs.
Edition I: The details of the initial printing of 2 are known precisely because copies of the delivery documents for installment one have survived.
The first print run of about two hundred copies was completed April 21, 1929; and the publication date was April 24, 1929 in installment one (of fifty).
Because 2 sold well from the start, it needed to be reprinted at least twice more before the edition I period ended in mid 1933 with the completion of the series. It is likely that these additional edition I print runs also produced about two hundred copies each. Nearly half of all documented copies of 2 are from edition I printings. The image at top and at left below are different examples of typical edition I copies.
Edition II: The popularity of 2 continued, and the number of edition II copies closely approximates those of edition 1 and again constitute nearly half of the documented copies. An edition II copy of 2 is one of three different edition II designs sold in late 1935, the earliest firmly documented date for any edition II copies. Other copies of 2 from edition II reprintings can only be dated approximately from between late 1935 and 1941. Storage of some of the wooden printing blocks for 2 in newspaper dated 1938 may indicate the actual date of one of these later edition II reprintings. The presence of a few edition II copies with city-name stamps indicate that they were still available for sale after World War II. A typical example of an edition II copy is at center below.
Edition III: All known edition III copies of 2 (including the process set mentioned below) show the white pigment from the birds' feathers smeared to the right and covering the ends of the leaves in the area of the signature and seal. This uneven inking appears to be a mistake limited to a single edition III print run. Because so few edition III copies of 2 are documented, this was likely the only postwar reprinting. The dating of this print run could potentially be any time between 1948 and 1955, but storage of some of the wooden printing blocks for 2 in newspaper dated 1954 may indicate the actual date of this edition III reprinting. A typical example of an edition III copy is at right below, and compare also the process set sheet lower below.
Although it is difficult to photograph accurately, all later editions of 2 have background colors noticeably paler than the richly saturated reddish-gold tan of edition I copies. In photographs edition II ( and edition IV) backgrounds may appear to be only slightly muted from the original, but edition III backgrounds always appear as a much lighter, more neutral, tan. In edition III there are also other color differences which include the addition of browns to the foliage and a more saturated blue to the water. Note also the different positionings of the signature and seal combinations in each of the three editions.
|2 (edition I)
||2 (edition II)
||2 (edition III)
Posthumous Edition IV: In 2015 the famous Kyoto publishing house Unsōdō Co., Ltd. (芸艸堂), bought all of the original Rakusan printing blocks together with several example prints and the remaining stocks of edition III watermarked paper. In 2021 Unsōdō began issuing for sale reprinted copies of 2. These new copies were printed for Unsōdō using the original Rakusan blocks and edition III watermarked paper by the well-known contemporary Kyoto woodblock printer, 中山誠人, Nakayama Masato. The unique combination of watermark and signature and seal markings (see above) define a new, posthumous edition IV. Edition IV copies are also readily identifiable from the Unsōdō attribution markings printed in the lower portion of the left margin. The inscription reads: 芸艸堂版 摺 中山, unsoudou-ban suri nakayama, 'Unsōdō edition, printing: Nakayama'. In all of the original earlier editions the left margin is left blank.
|2 (Unsōdō edition IV)
Despite having the original blocks to work with, reprinting 2 for Unsōdō was very difficult because none of Rakusan's printing instructions or ink formulae have survived. It is not known how many impressions Rakusan required to create any of the original three editions of 2 or the order in which the multiple impressions had to be printed. It was necessary for a master printer like Nakayama to experiment extensively in order to recreate Rakusan's results as closely as possible. For the posthumous edition IV Nakayama attempted to match the ink colors used in an edition II example obtained with the purchase of the wooden blocks. Unsōdō reports that Nakayama achieved their edition IV reprinting of 2 from the original twenty-eight wooden block faces (both sides of fourteen wooden blocks) using a total of forty-five overprinted impressions.
Recent examples (courtesy of Unsōdō) of a few of the wooden printing blocks used to print all editions of 2:
||key block (angle detail)
||color block (detail of foot scales)
There is a printing anomaly in 2 involving a sliver of what should be background between the two legs of the bird on the right. In the first print run and most other early edition I copies (including the example image at the top of this page) the sliver is corrected to a dark color which approximately matches the color of the nearby background areas. However, as in almost all later original edition copies, in about twenty percent of edition I copies that area is instead a shade noticeably lighter than the nearby background. It is difficult to separate edition I into two or more morphs on this basis because the corrected colors vary considerably and intergrade. In some later edition II and edition III printings this sliver is over-printed (or in-painted) in a thick bright white (including the example from the process set shown in that section below). In the posthumous Unsōdō edition IV reprinting the sliver exactly matches the overall lighter surrounding background. The immediately following detail images were taken with different cameras under different conditions:
|Edition I (dark match)
||Edition I (light contrast)
||Edition II (white contrast)
||Edition IV (light match)
Rakusan was evidently particularly proud of design 2.
Circa 1933 he designed a large, folded, handout card which he could distribute for advertising.
This commercially machine-printed card is called here the Publicity Flyer
It includes a black-and-white photographed thumbnail illustration of 2 as a representative of the recently completed woodblock print series. Immediately below the illustration is an English language caption which is reproduced in part above.
(Note that this version is neither an exact nor a complete translation of either Rakusan version of the Japanese title-caption. However, Rakusan would have had to rely on others to create the English text for the Publicity Flyer and on his own would have had no means of ensuring its accuracy.)
A complete process set for edition III of design 2 is preserved in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art (see below).
However, only the final sheet of this twenty-three sheet process set is illustrated online. This sheet is marked in large, bold print 'No. 23' in the upper margin and is signed but not sealed.
[For additional information on this and other Rakusan process sets, see the Process Set Article
Copies in Public Collections:
|Final Sheet (No. 23) of an edition III 2 Process Set (Honolulu Museum of Art, (1991) 21637)
Edition I: Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; (1938) 10999 [illustrated online].
Edition III Process Set: Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; (1991) 21637 [only the final sheet "No. 23" illustrated online].
Japanese Sweet Flag, Acorus gramineus
, 石菖, せきしょう, セキショウ, seki-shou
, lit. 'stone-iris', is an aquatic plant which is either a Japanese native or an anciently naturalized introduction.
It is often confused with the larger, but closely related, Common Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus
These plants have many popular names both in English and in Japanese, and the Publicity Flyer caption use of 'wild sweet flag' has guided the translations used here.
Shown among the leaves at lower left in 2 are the lighter yellow-green, elongate, rounded shapes of the flowering spikes of sweet flag.
The actual flowers are so tiny and grow so closely together on the shaft that the spikes appear soft and furry.
The title-caption for 2 has been recorded in two Japanese versions which Rakusan obviously intended as only stylistic variants.
In most circumstances altering the word order in the way Rakusan did here would be possible without changing the essential meaning.
However, in this particular circumstance he had apparently unknowingly encountered an exception.
The folio version, 石菖の花, sekishou no hana, lit. 'sweetflag flowers', does refer to flowers of Acorus gramineus as Rakusan intended.
Rakusan clearly thought that the final woodblock print version, 花石菖, hana-zekishou, lit. 'flowering sweetflag', would have the same meaning.
He apparently was unaware that 花石菖, hana-zekishou, is instead the name for a different plant, Tofieldia nuda.
Although unrelated, both plants grow near water, and their leaves appear similar; but their flowers are very different.
Tofieldia flower spikes are loose, open sprays of small, white, lily-like, starry flowers.
The etymology is that Tofieldia is a plant that looks like Acorus but instead has obvious showy flowers.
(Note that Tofieldia is called 'flowering sweetflag' as its regular name whether or not it is in bloom.)
Although Rakusan was unfamiliar with the Tofieldia name, this is not an instance where usage has subsequently changed since both plant species had these same names in Rakusan's time. This confusion of names remains common in modern Japanese usage as an online search readily shows.
Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, is today usually called 小鷺, こさぎ, コサギ, ko-sagi, lit. 'small heron'. Rakusan instead used used 白鷺, shira-sagi, lit. 'white-heron', which is a general name for any egret species. He also modified it with a rather poetic descriptor, 蓑, mino, 'straw raincloak', a type of old-style-rural rain protector. This refers to the way the breeding-plumage aigrettes stand out from the backs of the birds, rather like the way the stems stick out from the loose straw bundles used in the crude raincloak.