124 Edition I, Morph (a)
124 Edition II-a, Morph (b)
124 Edition II-b, Morph (b)

盆梅 [from folio]


Bonsai Plum

しだれ白梅 (盆梅) [as amended]

shidare shiraume/hakubai (bon-bai)

Weeping White Plum (Bonsai Plum)


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

124 Bonsai Plum Theme

Identification Notes:
This design is the twenty-fourth 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 24. 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 124, the 124th 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:
Edition I: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal D [brownish red] Morph (a)
Edition II-a: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal D [bright red] Morph (b)
Edition II-b: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B [bright red] Morph (b)

(124 is the only currently known use of seal D on a Rakusan woodblock print design.)

[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 124 was adapted from 124-0, 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:
124-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)

124 is one of several designs Rakusan printed using different colors and techniques, and there are two distinct color versions, morph (a) and morph (b) which define the two main editions. The background treatment in the painting and all of the woodblock printed versions is thin and translucent, and on many copies the background color is barely distinct from the unprinted paper. In the illustrations here the differential preservation of the silk or paper showing through makes the background colors appear more different than they once were.

Edition I, Morph (a) (1934-1941): Three quarters of all documented copies of 124 are from the original prewar edition I, morph (a). This is the only version of 124 found with presentation sheets (see below), and several associated copies have survived. Morph (a) of 24 is characterized by muted olive-greens and browns, and the white blossoms have green and black anthers on the stamens. The hues of morph (a) closely match those of the original painting, 124-0. The first example at top above is a typical copy of 124 edition I, morph (a).

Edition II Morph 124 (b) (1948-1955): Morph (b) of 124 has brighter, more saturated, greens, more orange browns, and the white blossoms have yellow anthers on the stamens. Almost all of the documented copies of 124 (b) have secondarily added cursive Rakusan romaji signatures, indicating intended postwar sales through Walter Foster. Edition II, morph (b) occurs with two different sets of attribution markings which define edition II sub-editions. Although together totaling one quarter of the documented copies of 124, the relative scarcity of both morph (b) versions suggests that only a single, smaller, print run of each was produced during the postwar edition II reprintings.

Edition II-a: The earlier edition II version of 124 is edition II-a which retains seal D from edition I but with that seal printed in bright red instead of the earlier dark brownish red. The second example at top above is a typical copy of 124 edition II-a, morph (b).

Edition II-b: The later edition II version of 124 is edition II-b. Rakusan continued to print the seal in bright red, but for edition II-b he replaced earlier seal D with seal B. The third example at top above is a typical copy of 124 edition II-b, morph (b).

In their original state the flower petals in all versions of 124 are white, and there are many copies in which they have remained entirely white (including all three examples illustrated above). Unfortunately, the lead white pigment used in printing 124 is subject to accidental chemical alteration caused by sulfur contaminants in the air. In its least extreme form the flowers acquire an additional blush of pink or rusty orange color around the edges. However, especially around the margins of the print, this often progresses to a leaden gray. Note that the presence of these chemically altered hues is a condition fault and not a deliberately printed variation.

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. Only copies of edition I, morph (a) 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 typically 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. 124 is the 36 Series design of the 124 Bonsai Plum theme.

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 has proven 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. 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.

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 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 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 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. 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.)

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

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 often 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. There is also a special name for White Plum, 白梅, lit. 'white plum' (which can be read either haku-bai or shira-ume). As with other flowering fruit trees weeping forms have also been created. The descriptor 枝垂(れ), (枝)垂れ, しだれ, シダレ, shidare refers to any tree with a weeping (pendulous) habit.

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, and flowers; and this trait has been encouraged in breeding. These pigmented forms are collectively called by a different name, Red Plum, 紅梅, こうばい, コウバイ, kou-bai, lit. 'red plum', but are actually the same species. (The descriptor 紅 may be read either as beni or as kou, and can mean 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