Edition I Morph 117 (a)
Edition I Morph 117 (b)

寒牡丹 [from folio]


Winter Tree-peony

寒牡丹に鷦鷯 [title adapted here]

kanbotan ni misosazai

Winter Tree-peony and Wren


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

117 Winter Tree-peony Theme
117 寒牡丹(カンボタン)画題

Identification Notes:
This design is the seventeenth of thirty-six woodblock prints in Rakusan's second main sequence series, 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Print Selection' (usually called here the 36 Series). Rakusan originally labeled this design number 17. However, after 1936 reprinting two series with duplicated numbering caused some confusion. To avoid further problems Rakusan decided to extend the numbering system from the preceding 100 Series into the 36 Series, and this design was relabeled as number 117, the 117th design published in his main sequence. Rakusan occasionally wrote his identification number in pencil on the reverse of the print.

Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal C

[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article. For edition and dating characteristics applicable to the entire series, see the Editions article.]

Print History:
The woodblock print of 117 was created from 117-0, an actual-size original painting on silk. Because Rakusan intended to retain all of the 36 Series prototypes in his personal collection, he did not affix a signature or seal, and the silk remained loose and unmounted. The silk was originally a pale cream color, but over time it has significantly yellowed:
117-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)

Edition I (1934-1941): Like most 36 Series designs 117 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy. However, 117 is one of several designs Rakusan printed using different colors and techniques within the same edition. Almost all known copies of 117 are one of two distinct color morphs, 117 (a) and 117 (b). Both of these edition I morphs occur with presentation sheets (see below), and it is not known which is the earlier version. The original painting 117-0 has an uncolored background which shows only the plain silk. In adapting the woodblock print of 117 Rakusan added a medium tan background printing which is similar but slightly different in each version. The other colors in the original painting on silk 117-0 differ from those in both morphs, but the greens of the painting most closely resemble those of the 117 (a) morph. There are a few isolated examples which may represent additional color morphs, but their condition is suspect and their original colors may have changed. Currently, no edition II copies of 117 have been documented.

The copies illustrated above are typical examples of each of these color morphs and come from dated sales only a few months apart in 1935-1936. Both illustrated copies are in the same pristine condition in the same private collection and were photographed at the same time and in the same way. It is important to emphasize that the color differences are original and deliberate, and that examples of 117 (b) are not just faded (or otherwise altered) copies of 117 (a).

Edition I, Morph 117 (a) (1934-1941): The 117 (a) morph is characterized by darker, more saturated hues - hot pinks and chartreuse greens. About two thirds of the documented copies are of morph 117 (a).

Edition I, Morph 117 (b) (1934-1941): The 117 (b) morph is paler and less vibrant with instead mauve pinks and jade greens. About one third of the documented copies are of morph 117 (b).

The earliest 36 Series prints were delivered tipped into recessed wells of presentation sheets embossed in their lower margins with the series title. Because all early edition I prints once had these presentation sheets, a copy which retains its presentation sheet must have been printed during the 1930s. (Both of the illustrated copies of 117 (a) and 117 (b) are on presentation sheets.) After his supply of presentation sheets was exhausted, Rakusan distributed subsequently-reprinted copies loose. A limited number of leftover earlier-printed copies of some designs on presentation sheets were still being distributed shortly after World War II, but by then most designs were only available as loose sheets. However, absence of presentation sheets is not diagnostic of later printings because many early prints have subsequently been detached from theirs.

Theme History:
The Rakusan project which produced 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen, resulted in two related series of woodblock prints. Each print of the 36 Series is intimately connected to a group of prints with the same subjects in the Fan Series. Together these subject-related prints in the two series constitute a theme. Each theme consists of a quintet of monochrome Fan Series designs (one design in each of the five fan shapes), plus one polychrome, 36 Series design which illustrates the theme subject. The theme is labeled here by the original Rakusan number of its 36 Series design followed by the subject. 117 is the 36 Series design of the 117 Tree-peony theme.

The 117 Tree-peony theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. The 36 Series design 117 and four of its five Fan Series designs have seal C which indicates that they were created and carved in the seal C period between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. However, the final Fan Series design was not added until somewhat closer to the time of publication. The Fan Series designs of the 117 Winter Tree-peony theme were printed during September 1934 and were distributed September 15, 1934 as installment six (of twelve). On the delivery documents Rakusan used the theme subject title 寒牡丹, kanbotan, 'winter tree-peony', which is also the original title of 36 Series design 117 published at the same time.

Earlier in the 36 Series Rakusan had created another tree-peony theme. That earlier 103 Tree-peony theme is also perfectly regular in arrangement and content, but each of those designs bears early signature and seal markings. The designs in the two tree-peony themes also differ in execution with the petals in the 117 Tree-peony theme filled with scribed parallel lines, and those in the 103 Tree-peony theme more silhouette-like. The 103 Tree-peony theme represents a separate earlier addition to the series which (apart from its shared subject) is entirely distinct from the 117 Tree-peony theme.

At least some of the designs in the 117 Winter Tree-peony theme were adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of design 11 in the earlier 100 Series (see below). Similarly, the designs in the 103 Tree-peony theme were adapted from sketches for design 10.

The pairing of the wren with the winter-blooming tree-peony is a traditional Japanese symbol of the winter season. It was also one of Rakusan's favorite subjects and he illustrated it in at least five surviving designs. The pairing occurs here not only in 117, but also in 117-5, 11alt, and 11.

Species Illustrated:
Tree-peony, Paeonia suffruticosa, 牡丹, ぼたん, ボタン, botan, now comes in many colors, shapes, and varieties.
Winter-blooming Tree-peony, Paeonia suffruticosa var. hiberniflora, 寒牡丹, kan-botan; or 冬牡丹, fuyu-botan; both lit. 'winter tree-peony', is the earliest-blooming variety of tree-peony and typically begins to bloom before the winter snow has melted. Therefore, to protect the new growth the plants are typically staked and often protected from the weight of the snow by a woven grass mat as a kind of open tent structure.

Eurasian House Wren (or Winter Wren), Trogolodytes troglodytes, 鷦鷯, ミソサザイ, misosazai, is a year-round resident in Japan.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 117 Winter Tree-peony theme:
117-1 117-2 117-3 117-4 117-5

Other designs in the earlier 103 Tree-peony theme:
103-1 103-2 103-3 103-4 103-5 103

Other designs with both winter tree-peonies and wrens:
11alt 11

Other designs with tree-peonies: