[modernly supplied general title]


tateha chou ni hinoki

Comma Butterfly and Hinoki Cypress


Assigned Number / 規定番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

105 Butterfly Theme / 105 チョウ画題

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

[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. In themes which contain duplicated fan shapes, one has been arbitrarily designated A and the other B. 105-4 indicates that this is a Fan Series design with fan shape 4 in the 105 Butterfly theme. Like all other designs in this series, 105-4 was only produced in a single print run, and few copies are currently documented.

Theme History:
Rakusan began creating the Fan Series with a mixed set of designs whose signatures and seals suggest they were carved during the last half of 1933. Aside from a scattering of designs eventually used for later themes, the majority of these early designs were assembled into the first six themes of the series, including the 105 Butterfly theme. The 36 Series designs for all six were also completed and carved within that same short period. The 105 Butterfly theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. The Fan Series woodblock prints of the 105 Butterfly theme were distributed in early 1934 in installment two (of twelve). The delivery documents for installment two remain to be discovered, but its delivery month was either February, March, or April 1934, and the woodblock prints would have been printed during the same month as the publication.

Butterflies and other insects often occur as subsidiary elements in Rakusan designs. However, in all of the other themes where they appear, those themes are defined by kinds of plants. The 105 Butterfly theme uniquely reverses the focus; its theme subject is defined instead by a kind of insect, and the plants are non-thematic subsidiary elements. Since 105-5 includes only butterflies, it is evident that the butterfly alone defines this theme since it is the only element common to all of these designs.

The composition of 105-4 includes a single butterfly sitting on one of two cypress branches. The tree is shown essentially in silhouette, but the butterfly is a detailed line drawing. The outlining of the dark portions of the wing and body is an early technique Rakusan often used when he wanted to indicate that the color patterns in the the ishizuri version were the natural, unreversed ones. This suggests that 105-4 is one of several early designs where Rakusan struggled with his ishizuri techniques.

The woodblock print of 105-4 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:

105-4 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

Species Illustrated:
Rakusan was unusually meticulous in his representations of insects, and it is almost always possible to identify the kinds of insects very closely. However, several of his butterflies (including the one in 105-4) are apparently distinctively different from the normal Japanese species which they most resemble. It is known that Rakusan was locally famous for depicting insects, and at least one of his major patrons was an entomologist. Rakusan easily could have had reference to exotic speciments which could be difficult to identify. It also remains possible (but perhaps less likely) that for decorative effect Rakusan tweaked his depictions of only a few of the normal native species.

The butterfly in 105-4 is one of the problems for identification. It is evidently intended to be a kind of nyphalid butterfly (family Nymphalidae) 立羽蝶, たてはちょう, タテハチョウ, tateha-chou. The form most closely resembles Japanese species in the nymphalid genus Polygonia, which are called commas or anglewings in English. The closest match is Asian Comma, Polygonia c-aureum, 黄立羽, キタテハ, ki-tateha, loosely 'yellow nymphalid'. Although the shape of the wings is similar, the patterns on the wings of the native Japanese species are different from those of the example in 105-4.

The cypress is probably Hinoki (or Japanese) Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, 檜(木), 桧(木), ひのき, ヒノキ, hinoki. The Japanese name has been borrowed into English.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 105 Butterfly theme:
105-1 105-2 105-3 105-5 105

Other designs with eye-spotted butterflies:
105-2 105-5 113-5 115-4

Other designs with hinoki cypress: