120 Edition I, Morph (a)

茶の花 [from folio]

cha no hana

Tea Flowers


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

120 Tea Flower Theme
120 茶の花 (チャの花)画題

Identification Notes:
This design is the twentieth 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 20. 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 120, the 120th 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:
All Copies: 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 120 was adapted from 120-0, 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:
120-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)

Edition I, Morph (a) 1934-1941: 120 is one of a sequence of five designs where Rakusan experimented with applying a special surface sizing, or coating, to the entire front face of the paper prior to printing. On the copies from the initial printing of 120 this coating is today a pale tan color extending also over the unprinted margins. The woodblock printing was done on top of this coating. Copies of 120 with the surface coated paper are morph (a). Currently, almost all documented copies of 120 are the morph (a) version.

Edition II, Morph (b) 1948-1955: A very few later copies of 120 printed on regular, uncoated paper are morph (b). As early as late 1935 Rakusan began reprinting morph (b) copies of two of the other experimental designs on regular paper without the special surface coating. Morph (b) copies of 120 on plain paper do not currently have secure dating. However, copies of 120 with the original tan coating and bearing city-name stamps (including the example illustrated at top above) 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, the regular paper reprinting of morph (b) copies of 120 may only have begun later in the postwar period.

The color palette of 120 is unusual for the 36 Series in that so few colors are represented; primarily grays with yellow, white, and a few pale green accents. The pale green is often actually present but invisible in photographs. It has not yet been possible to determine from photographic evidence alone if there are subtle color variations within the design for 120. Like most 36 Series designs 120 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy. However, it appears that there is a distinctive color difference in the woodblock-printed seal with dark brownish red on edition I copies and bright red on edition II copies.

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 120 have been documented with presentation sheets.

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 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. 120 is the 36 Series design of the 120 Tea Flower theme.

The Fan Series delivery documents for installment six in September 1934 announced that tea flower designs would be published the following month. Those for installment seven confirm that the Fan Series of the 120 Tea Flower 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 茶の花, cha no hana, 'tea flower' which is the original title of 36 Series design 120 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 120 Tea Flower theme has the fewest number of individual designs of any theme. Its three Fan Series designs are two short of the normal quintet, and the theme is lacking fan shapes 1 and 2. The 36 Series design 120 and two of the three Fan Series designs in the 120 Tea Flower theme have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. The remaining Fan Series design is the only known example of seal I. Here seal I is interpreted as a (perhaps accidental) variant of seal H which is a minor seal during the seal A period and would have been carved earlier during the third quarter of 1933.

It is probable that 120 was adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s for design 61 of the earlier 100 Series (see below).

Species Illustrated:
Tea, Camellia (Thea) sinensis, 茶, cha, is an originally exotic shrub which is now a common agricultural crop in Japan. Its leaves are harvested to make various kinds of tea. The closely trimmed plants are often supported by bamboo stakes as shown in 61. Tea plants typically flower in winter.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 120 Tea Flower theme:
120-3 120-4 120-5

Other designs with tea flowers: