This design is the twenty-fifth 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 25. 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 125, the 125th 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:
||+ Seal B
||[placed at lower left within the image]
||+ Seal B
||[placed at upper left within the image]
[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 125 was adapted from 125-0 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:
|125-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)
Like most 36 Series designs 125 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy, and on all documented copies the printing of the design is very similar. There are variations in the amount and location of light gray bokashi on the background and small differences in the colors. With more examples it may be possible to recognize patterns which would permit distinguishing color or technique morphs. However, 125 is one of only a few designs which defines two editions based on the placement of the same signature and seal combination within the image area.
Edition I (1934-1941): Almost all documented copies of 125 are from the original edition I printings, and several have presentation sheets (see below). Edition I copies have the signature and seal at lower left, quite close to the lower margin.
Edition II (1948-1955): Edition II copies of 125 are very rare, indicating that there was only a single, small, print run of 125 sometime during the postwar reprinting period. Although for edition II Rakusan chose to retain the same signature and seal combination used in edition I, he raised its position from lower left to upper left. Raising it enough to clear much of the vegetation makes the markings more legible, but this modification was made primarily in order to accommodate placing Foster's requested cursive Rakusan romaji signature along the left lower margin (as in the example above). All documented copies of edition II of 125 have this secondarily added signature.
Unfortunately, the white pigment Rakusan used in 125 is subject to chemical alteration.
This is most often seen in the falling snow and snow accumulated on the branches.
In its mildest form these areas take on a pinkish or rusty orange tinge, but when complete it changes to a leaden gray.
There are copies on which the originally white falling snow is entirely gray.
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.
Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I: Harvard Art Museums (Arthur M. Sackler Museum), Cambridge, MA, USA; (1941.55) [illustrated online].
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,
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.
125 is the 36 Series
design of the 125 Pussywillow
The 125 Pussywillow theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. All five 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.
Despite the early completion of those wooden blocks, Rakusan delayed printing and distribution for several months. It was eventually grouped in an installment with other winter season themes nearer to the end of the series. However, the 36 Series design 125 has seal B which indicates a later carving period closer to the time of publication.
On the Fan Series delivery folio for installment eight on November 22, 1934 Rakusan announced pussywillow designs as due to appear in installment nine the following month, December 1934. However, the delivery documents for installment nine have yet to be located, and it is not known if installment nine was actually distributed on time or was delayed. The publications of installment eight in November 1934 and of installment ten in March 1935 constrain the publication of installment nine to one of the three intervening months, December 1934, January 1935, or February 1935; and indicate that the other two of these months had no deliveries. The woodblock prints for installment nine would have been printed during the same month as their distribution.
In that Fan Series announcement Rakusan used the theme title 猫柳に鴫, nekoyanagi ni shigi, 'pussywillow and shorebird'. However, there are no shorebirds in any of the Fan Series designs, and this title is really only appropriate as the title of 36 Series design 125 published at the same time. The only subject common to all of the designs in this theme is the pussywillow, and therefore a more general theme title, 125 Pussywillow, is substituted here. Some of these pussywillow designs were adapted from sketches originally created during the planning of designs 83 and 86 in the preceding 100 Series (see below).
Rosegold Pussywillow, Salix gracilistyla
, 猫柳, ねこやなぎ, ネコヤナギ, neko-yanagi
, lit. 'cat-willow' is a common native species in Japan.
The variety name is based on the name for Weeping Willow, Salix babylonica
, 柳, 楊, 楊柳, やなぎ, ヤナギ, yanagi
, which is also used as a general name for any willow, much as in English.
Rakusan was fond of willow motifs and used them in several artworks.
Twining among the bases of the willow shoots at lower left are the unidentifiable withered remains of a vine or creeper.
Exact species identification among the various closely similar snipes is notoriously difficult in the field, and from an artwork it is almost impossible.
Rakusan included only two snipes in his artworks, one here in 125 in winter plumage and the other in 51 in summer plumage.
Even if Rakusan were illustrating the same individual, it would look different because of seasonal plumage variations.
In the folio title Rakusan used 鴫 (also written 鷸, しぎ, シギ), shigi.
Historically, 鴫 can be translated as 'snipe' as Rakusan intended here, but it is more often today rendered as 'sandpiper'.
A better English equivalent is 'shorebird' since the meaning actually includes any bird in the families Scolopacidae or Rostratulidae.
It is also unclear whether or not the birds in 125 and 51 are intended to be the same species since the folio title is so general.
Rakusan used 田鴫 in the title-caption for 51; indicating Common Snipe (Paddyfield Snipe), Gallinago gallinago, 田鴫, 田鷸, たしぎ, タシギ, ta-shigi, lit. 'field shorebird'.
References to modern wildlife photographs suggest that Rakusan created 51 using sketches of a dead snipe rather than from observation of a living one.
The positionings of the head, feet, and back feathers are all unnatural ones.
Although the pose in 125 is much more lifelike, the plumage is rendered with more artistic license and in less detail than in 51.
The details Rakusan chooses to enhance in 125 suggest that snipe is a different, slightly larger, species,
Japanese Snipe (Latham's Snipe), Gallinago (Capella) hardwickii, 大地鴫, おおじしぎ, オオジシギ, ooji-shigi, lit. 'ground shorebird'.