122 Edition I, Morph (a)

野梅 [from folio]


Wild Plum


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

122 Wild Plum Theme
122 野梅(ヤバイ)画題

Identification Notes:
This design is the twenty-second 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 22. 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 122, the 122nd 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 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.]

Print History:
The woodblock print of 122 was adapted from 122-0, 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:
122-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)

Edition I, Morph (a) 1934-1941: 122 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 122 this coating is today a tea-brown color extending also over the unprinted margins. The woodblock printing was done on top of this coating. Copies of 122 with the surface coated paper are morph (a). Currently, almost all documented copies of 122 are the morph (a) version.

Edition II, Morph (b) 1948-1955: A very few later copies of 122 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 122 on plain paper do not currently have secure dating. However, copies of 122 with the original brown 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 reprinting of morph (b) copies of 122 on regular, uncoated paper may only have begun later in the postwar period.

The green inks used in 122 range from a near olive on some copies to a bright Kelly green on others. The different ink mixes probably come from different print runs, but to date no consistent pattern or progression has emerged. Like most 36 Series designs 122 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy, and the only quantifiable distinction between the versions of 122 is the presence or absence of the surface coating. 122 is the only design for which the edition differentiation relies solely on the paper rather than on details of the woodblock printing. However, the identical shift for the two earlier designs occurred well within the edition I period. The parallelism with the other designs might suggest instead treating morph (b) of 122 as an exceptional, late extension of edition I which would also be a unique solution.

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 122 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 separately distributed Fan Series. Together each set of subject-related prints from the two series constitutes a theme. Each theme typically consists of a quintet of monochrome Fan Series designs (one design in each of the five different fan shapes), plus one polychrome 36 Series design which defines the theme subject. The theme is labeled here by the original Rakusan number of its 36 Series design followed by the subject. 122 is the 36 Series design of the 122 Wild Plum theme.

The 122 Wild Plum theme is one of three different themes based on flowering plums. (The other two are 123 Red Plum and 124 Bonsai Plum.) Because the Fan Series prints for all three of these themes were delivered loose within a single installment, it has proven very difficult to assign the individual flowering plum designs to their appropriate themes. In monochrome prints the color of plum blossoms is uncertain, and of course a bonsai plum can be any color. However, there are exactly three designs of each fan shape, and there is no evidence that the installment consists of anything other than three entirely regular themes each with a complete Fan Series quintet.

The publication of the flowering plum Fan Series installment is very well documented. The delivery documents for installment seven in October 1934 list the three plum themes in a preview announcement for the installment due the following month. Those for installment eight confirm that the Fan Series woodblock prints for all three plum themes were printed during November 1934 and were distributed November 22, 1934 as installment eight (of twelve). Rakusan used the same three theme subject titles on both sets of documents on the delivery folio envelopes: 野梅, ya-bai, 'wild plum'; 紅梅, kou-bai, 'red plum'; and 盆梅, bon-bai, 'bonsai plum'. These are also the original titles of their corresponding 36 Series designs 122,123, and 124 which were published at the same time.

The theme assignment issues and the signature and seal markings of the flowering plum designs suggest that their Fan Series prints are best considered together as a single unit of fifteen designs. Fully thirteen of the fifteen Fan Series designs have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. The other two Fan Series designs have rare minor seals, one example each of seal Q and of seal R. They may possibly date from the seal A period around the third quarter of 1933, from the seal C period (which would make all of the flowering plum Fan Series designs contemporaneous), or from the subsequent seal B period. The 36 Series bonsai plum design, 124, is the sole woodblock print example of minor seal D whose carving period is assigned to the seal C period. After preparing the wooden blocks for these relatively early designs, Rakusan set them aside for several months. The remaining two 36 Series flowering plum designs, 122 and 123, have seal B which indicates they were not carved until somewhat later, and perhaps only shortly before their publication.

Rakusan was aware of the problem of recognizing the theme assignments for the individual flowering plum Fan Series designs. He decided to label the first Fan Series print of two of the three themes with a theme title incorporated into the design. Because Rakusan put these exceptional titles on designs of the same fan shape, that shape was defined here as fan shape 1 for the entire series. Corresponding to 36 Series design 122 is Fan Series design 122-1 which incorporates the title 野梅之圖, ya-bai no zu, Wild Plum Pictures, [之圖 would now be written の図]. Rakusan was otherwise relying only on his original distribution arrangement to keep the themes separate. He would have arranged the prints so that the subscriber received each of the three theme sets in the proper order with each of the first two themes beginning with a fan shape 1 design with a title. (The third set has no title on its fan shape 1 design.) Unfortunately, since the prints were delivered loose, and were thus easily rearranged, that original delivery order has not been reliably preserved in any surviving collection.

Rakusan had published four flowering plum designs in the previous 100 Series, 4, 22, 63, and 89. Certainly many later flowering plum theme designs were adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of those earlier woodblock prints. Interestingly, the order in which the three 36 Series designs were first published reflects the order in which their most closely similar 100 Series designs appeared: 122 is the same variety as 4; 123 is the same as 22 (and 22alt); and 124 is the same as 63. (However, there are no plum theme designs which closely correspond to 89.)

Species Illustrated:
Japanese Plum-Apricot (usually called Plum or Flowering Plum), Prunus mume, 梅, うめ, ウメ, ume, is a Japanese native flowering fruit tree. It has been extensively bred, hybridized, and selected; and there are many forms and colors. As one of the first-blooming trees in winter and early spring, it is a beloved cultural symbol of the turning of the seasons.

野梅 ya-bai or no-ume, lit. 'field plum', is the general name for any kind of wild plum. Most wild trees have white single flowers, but occasionally a few double blossoms appear on the same tree. Selection for this trait has resulted an array of forms with single, semi-double, and double blooms. As with other flowering fruit trees, weeping forms have also been created.

A few wild plums have varying amounts of red pigment in the wood, shoots, leaves, and flowers; and this trait has also been encouraged in breeding. Although these pigmented forms are collectively called by a different name, 紅梅, こうばい, コウバイ, kou-bai, lit. 'red plum'; they are actually all the same species. (The descriptor 紅 may be read either as beni or as kou, and covers a wide range of colors from crimson-red through rose to pale pink, depending on the context. Although conventionally translated into English as Red Plum, many familiar 紅梅 flowers are actually pink.)

The old growth of these trees is often embellished with lichen and fungi in these prints, and a few have evidence of small animal life.

Related Designs:
All Flowering Plum designs: [Note: Flowering plum Fan Series theme assignments are tentative and are subject to change with new information.]
4 22alt 22 63 89
122-1 122-2 122-3 122-4 122-5 122
123-1 123-2 123-3 123-4 123-5 123
124-1 124-2 124-3 124-4 124-5 124