[modernly supplied title]

しだれ白梅 (盆梅)

shidare shiraume/hakubai (bonbai)

Weeping White Plum (Bonsai Plum)

シダレシラウメ (盆梅)

Assigned Number / 規定番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

124 Bonsai Plum Theme / 124 盆梅 画題

Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I (only edition): 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.]

Series History and Definitions:
During the two years between mid 1933 and mid 1935 Rakusan produced a series of 180 individual woodblock-printed fan designs. These fan designs are printed as negative images with a single impression of black ink. Although all are actually woodblock prints, this traditional negative-image printing style is called 石摺(り), ishi-zuri, lit. 'stone rubbing', from its superficial resemblance to that technique. Rakusan called this series 篁子生石摺画選, Koushisei Ishizuri Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Stone-rubbing Print Selection', but it is usually called here the Fan Series.

Rakusan arranged the Fan Series prints into shared-subject groups typically consisting of one design in each of five different fan silhouette shapes. Each of these groups of Fan Series designs are united by a corresponding polychrome 36 Series design which defines the subject. Each shared-subject Fan Series group and its 36 Series design together comprise a theme (画題, gadai).

Rakusan did not include the Fan Series in his main sequence numbering. Therefore, the original number used for each of the 36 Series prints has been modified to identify the Fan Series members of its theme. The five different fan silhouette shapes have been here assigned arbitrary numbers 1 through 5. To indicate a fan design these shape designations are added to the 36 Series number separated by a hyphen. 124-2 is the Fan Series design with fan shape 2 in the 124 Bonsai Plum theme. Like all other designs in this series, 124-2 was only produced in a single print run, and few copies are currently documented.

Theme History:
The 124 Bonsai Plum theme is one of three different themes based on flowering plums. (The other two are 122 Wild Plum and 123 Red Plum.) Because the Fan Series prints for all three of these themes were delivered as a single installment, it can be very difficult to assign the individual, loose, 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. Although there are a total of fifteen plum fan designs divided among the three themes, it remains possible that the number of designs in each may be irregular. 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 quintet.

Theme assignments of the Fan Series designs in the 124 Bonsai Plum theme are the most secure of any of the plum themes. As the only fan shape 1 design without an incorporated theme title, by default 124-1 belongs here. 124-2 is the only weeping flowering plum Fan Series design, but although it corresponds closely to 36 Series design 124, it remains possible that it could be exchanged with the current 123-2. Illustrating the entire specimen (and the ground surface) in 124-1, 124-3, 124-4, and 124-5 confirms that these are miniature trees. The sizes of the bamboo supports in 124-5 and 124 also reinforce the suggestion of a small scale.

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 titles on both sets of delivery documents: 野梅, ya-bai, 'wild plum'; 紅梅, kou-bai, 'red plum'; and 盆梅, bon-bai, 'bonsai plum'. Those original titles are retained here for each of the themes.

The individual designs were completed in at least two different stages. 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 (including 124-2) have seal C which indicates a carving date during the first half of 1934. The other two fan designs have rare minor seals whose carving periods remain to be determined, one example each of seal Q and seal R. They may in fact both also be from within the same major seal C period (which would make all of the plum fan designs contemporaneous). After preparing the wooden blocks for these relatively early designs, Rakusan set them aside for several months. Two of the three 36 Series flowering plum designs, 122 and 123, have seal B which indicates they were not carved until the following period, and perhaps not until shortly before their publication with the Fan Series designs later in the year. The third 36 Series flowering plum design, 124, is the sole woodblock print example of minor seal D whose carving period is indeterminate between the sequential major seal C and seal B periods.

Rakusan was aware of the problem of theme assignment 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. 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 124 Bonsai Plum theme 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.)

The composition of 124-2 includes a terminal section of a weeping flowering plum. Most of the elements are rendered as very detailed line drawings, but the flowers, buds, and some of the branches are almost silhouettes.

The woodblock print of 124-2 was modeled closely on an actual-size original sumi sketch which although lost can be reconstructed by digitally reversing the image of the woodblock print:

124-2 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

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.

The title 盆梅, bon-bai, 'bonsai plum' (literally 'tray plum'), refers not to a kind of plum, but rather to how the individual specimen has been grown. Bonsai are either naturally stunted or deliberately dwarfed trees grown in shallow trays.

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 flowering plum trees is often embellished with lichen and fungi in these prints.

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