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Landscapes: Kyoto 1 (LK1 Paintings)

A set of sixteen double-oban size Kyoto landscape paintings on silk are called here Landscapes: Kyoto 1 (LK1). Fourteen of the paintings are signed and sealed with similar signatures and seal B. There are also two unsigned paintings that are comparable to the others in all respects except that they have no signatures or seals. These sixteen paintings fall into four unequal subgroups corresponding to the seasons of the year and include motifs traditional to those seasons: Spring (Cherry Blossoms), Summer (Iris or Daimonji), Autumn (Maple Leaves), and Winter (Snow). As in the kacho 100 Series, autumn landscape designs are underrepresented here as well.

The individual designs are large, complex, and very detailed; and each would have been quite difficult and costly to produce as a woodblock print. These paintings were initially created as one of several different sets of demonstration sample designs intended to help Rakusan enlist financial support for a new double-oban size woodblock print series. Although the paintings may have been created slightly earlier, use of seal B means that they were signed and sealed no earlier than the middle of 1934. Other factors suggest they had all been completed before the middle of 1935. This early dating guarantees that the LK1 paintings were to be the nucleus of his proposed 100 Landscapes Series project mentioned in the late 1933 Publicity Flyer (not yet posted online).

In the Publicity Flyer Rakusan wrote in English, ‘I am now contemplating to start a series of one-hundred Japanese landscapes.’ Exactly what Rakusan meant by ‘Japanese landscapes’ is uncertain. Nearly all of the known Rakusan landscape settings are scenes from in and around Kyoto. Kyoto area locations are featured in at least forty-nine of the fifty-five landscape designs, as well as in all but one of the giga designs in which particular real landscape elements can be identified. It is possible that Rakusan only began with Kyoto scenes since they were convenient to his home and studio, and that he intended to include views from other areas of Japan later on. Alternatively, Rakusan may have always intended the series to be exclusively of Kyoto locations which after all are also ‘Japanese’. His ‘contemplating to start’ is taken to mean that Rakusan had not at that time yet begun to paint any of the landscape designs for the proposed new series.

By this time Rakusan’s problems with keeping adequate skilled staff and locating sufficient funding were chronic. Producing new large woodblock prints of one hundred elaborate designs (such as those he had just finished and had begun reprinting in the kacho 100 Series) would have been difficult if not impossible given his available resources. An unassociated storage document mentions a Kyoto: Eight Views project. If that proposal represents a later scaled back version of the 100 Landscapes Series concept, then the LK1 paintings are also the leading candidates for that project. However, by the end of 1935 Rakusan had set aside any immediate plans of producing LK1 or any other large format woodblock prints. He probably had no idea that this postponement was permanent and that he would never again make large format woodblock prints using new designs. In any case, no direct woodblock print versions of any group LK1 paintings were ever produced, and the LK1 series of paintings remained in Rakusan's personal collection. To this day these virtuoso paintings are proudly displayed to favored visitors as examples of Rakusan's best work.

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A Design Simplification Progression

The first design is a double-oban size painting LK1-10. In the next stage LK2-9 is reduced by half to oban size, and the composition and details are simplified. For SP2-0 the size is reduced slightly more, the design cropped, and all colors replaced by black sumi ink. SP2-0 was in turn recreated as a woodblock print SP2. The same wooden blocks were used to produce two variations SP2-a and SP2-b which reintroduced different colors to the composition.

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*LK1-10 (painting) *LK2-9 (painting) SP2-0 (painting) SP2-a (print) SP2-b (print)

© 2015 Dr Michael J P Nichols

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