This design is the nineteenth 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 19. 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 119, the 119th 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:
||+ Seal B
[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.]
The woodblock print of 119 was adapted from 119-0, 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. Notice especially that the original painting is much more brightly colored than the woodblock print 119 adapted from it.
|119-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)
Edition I, Morph (a) 1934-1941: 119 is the first of five consecutively published 36 Series designs originally printed on paper coated with a special surface sizing. The coating was applied only to the surface of the side of the paper intended to receive the woodblock printing, and the reverse side was left uncoated. The coating covers the entire face of the sheet, including the margins; and is not just limited to the woodblock printed areas. The sizing used for 119 is thin and slightly spongy - most resembling the feel of a very thin film of styrofoam. It incorporates tiny silvery, often shiny, particles, perhaps powdered mica. A similar sizing is also used for some morphs of 121, and since both 119 and 121 are of winter subjects, it is possible that the coating was intended to suggest a background of ice or snow. This sizing today appears mostly gray, but it may have originally been clear and has altered over time. It is also somewhat fragile and tends to break down and readily sheds its gray or silvery particles. Copies of 119 with this surface coated paper are morph (a). Currently, almost all documented copies of 119 are definitely the morph (a) version. The copy illustrated at top above is typical of 119 edition I, morph (a).
Possible Edition II, Morph (b) 1948-1955: Like most 36 Series designs 119 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy, and the woodblock printed images of all documented copies of 119 look very much alike. Because each of the other four designs printed on coated paper also have later morph (b) versions printed on plain, uncoated paper, it is likely that 119 does too. To date no definite morph (b) copies of 119 have been identified. However, the 119 morph (a) surface coating is difficult to capture in photographs, and in some of the previously documented imagery the coating cannot be seen clearly. Therefore it remains very possible that the small number of these indistinctly photographed copies of 119 were actually printed on plain, uncoated paper. If confirmed, these would therefore be examples of morph (b) for 119. Copies of 119 with the original silvery coating and bearing city-name stamps show that supplies of morph (a) were still available for sale after World War II. Because Rakusan typically didn't reprint until he needed more copies, any plain paper reprinting of morph (b) copies of 119 would only have begun later in the postwar period.
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.
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. Currently, only morph (a) copies of 119 have been documented with presentation sheets.
Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I: Harvard Art Museums (Arthur M. Sackler Museum), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; (1941.57) [illustrated online].
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 normally 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.
119 is the 36 Series
design of the 119 Nandina
The Fan Series delivery documents for installment six in September 1934 announced that nandina designs would be published the following month. Those for installment seven confirm that the Fan Series of the 119 Nandina theme were printed during October 1934 and distributed October 15, 1934 as part of installment seven (of twelve). On both sets of delivery documents Rakusan used the theme subject title 南天, nanten, 'nandina', which is the original title of 36 Series design 119 published at the same time.
All three themes 119, 120, 121 of installment seven have irregular numbers of Fan Series designs. As a result of a late decision to merge two incomplete themes, Rakusan was left with eight Fan Series designs in theme 121. Making the installment quota of fifteen designs in three themes meant shorting the other two themes in installment seven. Normally Rakusan would have infilled the missing Fan Series designs in all four original themes with seal B designs just before publication. However, the solution he adopted here meant that no Fan Series infilling was necessary. The four Fan Series designs in the 119 Nandina theme have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934, and a design with fan shape 2 is missing. However, since the 119 Nandina theme still lacked a 36 Series design, 119 was carved with seal B somewhat later and perhaps just before publication.
It is probable that 119 was adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s for design 1 of the earlier 100 Series (see below).
In addition both of the finished designs make use of metallic inks to highlight the leaves.
Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo), Nandina domestica
, 南天, なんてん, ナンテン, nanten
, is originally a Japanese native which now has many varieties and garden cultivars. It keeps its berries into the winter and is a traditional Japanese symbol of the winter season.