Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
||Edition I watermark
||+ Seal A
||Edition II watermark*
||+ Seal B
||Edition III watermark
||+ Seal B
*63 is one of only a very few designs where an edition III is printed on leftover edition II paper.
[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 63 is original to Rakusan who published the print as the 63rd 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'.
Edition I: Initial printing and publication of about two hundred edition I copies of 63 was in December 1931 (or perhaps slightly later) in installment thirty-two (of fifty). However, at least two (and possibly three) additional full edition I reprintings were made before mid 1933 when the series was completed and and all edition I printing ceased. About three quarters of the documented copies of 63 come from these edition I printings, including the two different example copies illustrated at top and below left.
Rakusan considered edition I of 63 to be one of his best designs and included it in at least one formal presentation album between 1935 and 1940. (Only one of these albums is known to be in a public collection, see below.)
Edition I of 63 was printed in such large numbers that it appears unlikely that an edition II reprinting was ever necessary.
Edition III-a: The first of two, separate, very small print runs of 63 during the postwar period is called here edition III-a. Unusually, edition III-a of 63 was printed on leftover edition II watermark paper. Currently, all of the few documented copies have secondary handwritten Rakusan cursive signatures within the image area along the lower margin, including the example at center below. However, although probably also added at Foster's request, the signature is written in a different, and apparently earlier, style than was used for almost the entire rest of the Foster era. Inclusion of an edition III-a copy of 63 in the Foster booklet (see below) is additional evidence that it was printed at least a few years before the end of the edition III periof between 1948 and 1955.
Edition III-b: The second of two, separate, very small print runs during the postwar period between 1948 and 1955 is called here edition III-b. It was printed on the normal edition III watermark paper. All edition III-b copies of 63 have the more typical Foster era Rakusan cursive romaji signatures, including the copy at right below. Both of these characteristics suggest that edition III-b of 63 is later than edition III-a.
|63 (edition I)
||63 (edition III-a)
||63 (edition III-b)
It is possible to distinguish all three versions by their different colors and techniques. Direct comparison reveals obvious color and contrast differences in the feathers, branches, and bark. All three tan background treatments are also distinctly different colors, but their actual hues are difficult to photograph with color fidelity. In person all three are not exactly what is shown in these examples.
Edition I has an even, rich tan background.
Edition III-a has an even, pale beige background.
Edition III-b has a shaded tan background, lighter at the top and with darker bokashi shading at the bottom.
The first two versions have gold metallic glitter strewn in the background, but this may be lacking in some edition III-b copies.
63 is among the most familiar Rakusan designs because of Walter Foster.
In addition to marketing original Rakusan woodblock prints of 63 from Japan, Foster also sold two grades of reproductions which he had machine-printed in the USA.
Both reproduction versions were created from the same original model, an edition III-a copy of 63 in Foster's personal collection.
One version is a fine art reproduction produced for individual sale, and the other appears as page 26 of the Foster booklet.
The fine art reproduction was produced to very high standards of photolithography on good quality, heavy matte paper; and the inks were carefully color-matched to those of the original woodblock print.
Because of this attention to detail, it was relatively expensive, few copies were sold, and they are seldom encountered today.
Instead, what are mostly offered for sale as reproductions of 63 are actually copies of page 26 cut from the Foster booklet.
Regrettably, the booklet was inexpensively and inexactly machine-printed on semi-gloss paper, and its illustration colors are not true to the original.
The booklet reproduction looks odd because of a strong overall greenish tinge not present in the original print.
Both reproduction versions are of similar size (listed as 9" x 12"); therefore they are significantly smaller than the original woodblock print (listed as 13" x 18").
(Both reproductions actually maintain the unique proportions of the original woodblock print; so the advertised dimensions are only rough approximations.)
Initially, Foster sold original woodblock prints of 63 for $25, fine art reproductions for $3, and the entire booklet (with 27 different designs) for $1.
Because the Foster booklet was printed in great numbers and remains widely available today, it is usually less expensive to buy the entire booklet than a single page reproduction.
Because Foster could not read Rakusan's Japanese title-captions, he made up ones of his own to use in the booklet. Here he called 63 "Starlings and Hanging White Plum".
[For additional general information on Foster, the booklet, or the fine art reproductions, see the Foster article.]
Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I: Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, Amherst, MA, USA; (AC 2004.151.05) [illustrated online]; from an October 29, 1935 presentation album.
Edition I: Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI, USA; (1938) 11004 [illustrated online].
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.
There is also a special name for White Plum, 白梅, lit. 'white plum' (which can be read either haku-bai or shira-ume).
As with other flowering fruit trees weeping forms have also been created.
The descriptor 枝垂(れ), (枝)垂れ, しだれ, シダレ, shidare refers to any tree with a weeping (pendulous) habit.
A few wild plums have varying amounts of red pigment in the wood, shoots, and flowers; and this trait has 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 these trees is often embellished with lichen and fungi in these prints, and a few have evidence of small animal life, but Rakusan never mentions those in the title-captions.
Gray Starling (White-cheeked Starling), Sturnus cineraceus, is a common native bird in Japan which has many local and regional names.
Today, Gray Starling is 椋鳥, むくどり, ムクドリ, muku-dori, and this name is also used as a general name for any starling.
The name Rakusan used is a regional variant, but that name comes from a region distant from his own.
It is possible that in writing 大椋鳥, おおむくどり, オオムクドリ, oo-muku-dori, lit. 'large starling', Rakusan simply meant 'large starling' rather than an actual species name.