This design is the twenty-first 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 21. 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 121, the 121st 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 and Morphs:
||+ Seal B
||[no special surface sizing]
||[thin silvery surface sizing]
||[thick pearly surface sizing]
[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 121 was adapted from 121-0, 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:
|121-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)
The composition of 121 includes a rhizome runner section of bamboo-grass with three leaves, four pinecones, and a scattering of tiny pine seeds which have popped out of the cones. The original painting on silk 121-0 (see immediately above) has individual shadows of each of the elements on the unpainted silk background. The suggestion is of a still-life on a white surface, perhaps a snowbank. In adapting the woodblock print of 121, Rakusan omitted the individual shadows, as well as a dark field at the margins at lower left, and he also muted some of the colors and contrasts - especially on the leaves. The round bright highlights are rendered in gold ink which has often chemically altered to a brown color on the woodblock prints, but on most copies a metallic luster can still be seen from oblique angles.
Like most 36 Series designs 121 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy, and all currently documented copies come from edition I printings. However, within edition I each copy of 121 can be assigned to one of three distinct color and technique morphs, morph (a), morph (b), and morph (c). The three morphs first appeared in this order as indicated below. Other than the paper and background treatments, the images of all three woodblock-printed versions are very much alike. The copies illustrated at top above are typical examples of each of these morphs. The first two examples come from dated sales only a few months apart in 1935-1936. Both of these copies are in the same pristine condition in the same private collection and were photographed at the same time and in the same way.
Edition I, Morph (a) (1934-1935): The original painting 121-0 has darker shadings for shadows of the elements in the design. In adapting the morph (a) version of 121 Rakusan instead used a very thin gray bokashi wash extending across the entire lower portion of the background. In this version the printing was done on his usual, unmodified, creamy-white paper. Morph (a ) is the original version of 121 created for the first print runs and initial distributions to series subscribers. As a result, three quarters of the documented copies of 121 are morph (a) versions, including the first example at top above.
Edition I, Morph (b) (1935-1936): Very few copies of morph (b) of 121 have appeared, and probably only a single, smaller print run was produced sometime between September 1935 and April 1936 when one well-documented copy was sold. Morph (b) copies lack bokashi shading on the background, and instead, the paper has been modified prior to printing by the addition of 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 treatment covers the entire face of the sheet, including the margins; and is not just limited to the woodblock printed areas. It is thin and incorporates tiny silvery, often shiny, particles - perhaps powdered mica. The particles on some copies of 121 (b) appear silvery and on others gray (as in the illustrated copy above). At low sight angles the paper has a distinct sheen. A closely similar sizing was also used for 119, and since both 121 and 119 are of winter subjects, it is possible that the coating was intended to suggest a background of ice or snow. This sizing today often 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 shiny particles. The second example at top above is typical of morph (b) of 121.
Edition I, Morph (c) (1936-1941): Like morph (b), morph (c) of 121 omits the bokashi shading on the background, but morph (c) uses a different special surface sizing. Again 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 morph (c) of 121 is thick, uniform, and slightly spongy - most resembling the feel of a very thin film of styrofoam. It incorporates tiny pearly, silvery white particles. Viewed from directly in front the background appears evenly bright white, and especially at low sight angles it is very shiny. Unlike the sizing for morph (b), the coating on morph (c) remains stable and well preserved. Less than a quarter of the documented copies are morph (c) versions, and probably only a single, smaller, print run was produced late in the prewar period. Copies of morph (c) of 121 with city-name stamps, including the third example at top above, show that supplies of this version were still available for sale after World War II.
The earliest 36 Series prints were delivered tipped into recessed wells of presentation sheets embossed in their lower margins with the series title 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen.
Because all early edition I prints once had these presentation sheets, a copy which retains its presentation sheet must have been printed before the war and probably during the 1930s. Copies of all three morphs of 121 have been documented with presentation sheets, and the particular morph (a) and morph (b) copies illustrated above remain attached to theirs.
After his supply of presentation sheets was exhausted, Rakusan distributed later-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, because many early prints have subsequently been detached from their presentation sheets, absence of a presentation sheet is not in itself diagnostic of a later reprinting.
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.
121 is the 36 Series
design of the 121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine
The Fan Series delivery documents for installment six in September 1934 announced that kumazasa bamboo-grass and pinecone designs would be published the following month. Those for installment seven confirm that the Fan Series prints of the121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine 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 熊笹に松笠, kumazasa ni matsukasa, 'kumazasa bamboo-grass and pinecones', which is an appropriate title only for 36 Series design 121 published at the same time. Because Fan Series design 121-5A contains only pine seedlings and pine needles without pinecones, here a more general theme title 隈笹に松, kumazasa ni matsu, 'kumazasa bamboo-grass and pine', has been adapted (see below). The original spelling of Rakusan's title is used here only for the 36 Series design 121 for which it was devised.
The 121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine theme has a complex history, and it has more individual designs than any other theme.
Rakusan had originally planned to have two separate themes, one for kumazasa bamboo-grass and one for pine.
Two of the four Fan Series pine designs have minor seal H which indicates carving dates around the third quarter of 1933 during the seal A period. The other six Fan Series designs, including two more pine designs and four bamboo-grass designs, have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. Then Rakusan set both incomplete groups aside for several months.
In the middle of 1934 Rakusan changed his original plan and combined the two as a single compound theme.
He then painted 121-0 as the model for the 36 Series design 121 which included both original components.
The 36 Series design 121 was carved with seal B somewhat later and perhaps just before publication.
The resultant 121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine compound theme has eight Fan Series designs, three more than the normal quintet. In the merged theme fan shapes 1, 2, 4, and 5 are duplicated, with one bamboo-grass design and one pine design for each shape, but there are no fan shape 3 designs.
Using all eight designs from this compound theme meant that for installment seven to have exactly fifteen designs in three themes, the other themes included would have to have fewer designs than normal.
As a result, all three themes,119, 120, and 121 in installment seven have irregular numbers of Fan Series designs.
At least some of the pine designs may have been adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of design 39 (and possibly also of design 9) in the earlier 100 Series.
Similarly, some of the kumazasa bamboo-grass designs may come from those for design 93 (and possibly also of designs 6 and 87). (See links below.)
All species of bamboo-grass (also called dwarf bamboo) are called 笹, ささ, ササ, sasa
This Japanese name has been borrowed into scientific Latin as the genus name Sasa
which has a much more restricted scientific meaning.
Kumazasa Bamboo-grass, Sasa veitchii
, くまざさ, クマザサ, kumazasa
, is a common species of dwarf bamboo which is cultivated both as an ornamental and as an ingredient in Asian herbal medicine.
The Japanese name for this species has been borrowed into English as Kumazasa, Kuma Zasa, Kuma Bamboo-grass, etc.
Today in Japanese the name is almost always written in kana, and there is dispute about the proper kanji etymology of kuma-zasa
Rakusan always used 熊笹, lit. 'bear-bamboograss', which is now considered to be a folk etymology.
Modern botanical literature prefers 隈笹, lit. 'shade-bamboograss'.
A former name for this same species, Sasa albomarginata, White-margin Bamboo-grass, refers to the tips and edges of the dark green leaves which turn creamy white with the onset of cold weather. Note that the Fan Series kumazasa bamboo-grass designs are unusual in that they are not negatively reversed compositions.
In all four of these fan prints the areas of dark and light are as they are in nature, dark leaves with light margins and mostly light stems, just as on the 36 Series design 121.
The general name for all kinds of pine trees, Pine, Pinus, spp. is 松, まつ, マツ, matsu.
It is difficult to identify the exact species only from artwork of a pinecone.
The other pines illustrated in this theme most closely resemble the pine shown in 39.
However, in the title-caption for 39 Rakusan uses the general name 松 matsu with the descriptor 小, ko, 'small, young' which here refers to the age and/or size of the pine and is not a species designation.
In the future it might be possible to identify the pine species more closely.