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Souvenir Prints

SP1 (basic)

SP1 (advertising)

SP1 (dedication)

SP2-0 (original painting)


SP2-b (greeting)

SP3 (detail)

SP4 (detail)

Shortly after World War II Rakusan experimented with offering personalized handwritten dedications on certain of his woodblock prints at the time of their distribution. Most of the dedications include dates in either 1947 or 1948, and the basic woodblock prints were probably produced around this time. A few undated dedications are so similar in form and style to the dated examples that they are assignable to this same brief period. There are no examples of such dedications on artworks from any earlier period of Rakusan’s career, and later ones are very rare.

Rakusan was unwilling to deface prints from his prewar inventory of major series designs, and anyway their margins were seldom wide enough to contain significant amounts of text. Therefore, Rakusan adapted a few simple, chuban-size, souvenir print designs specifically for the purpose of later adding secondary text. Because each design only required three or four impressions, Rakusan was able to print and reprint these simple souvenir prints quickly when he was well enough to work.

Right after the war friends had arranged for Rakusan to have a table and display case in the lobby of the Kyoto Hotel so that he could meet potential customers there. It would not be practical to do actual printing in the confines of a small area of a hotel lobby; therefore adding a dedication with signatures and seals provided a bit of theater as well as a personal connection with the client. At least one photograph survives of Rakusan autographing SP1 in the hotel lobby. These autographed souvenir prints proved very popular with both Japanese and foreign visitors, and through them Rakusan gained many new buyers.

There were at least four different basic souvenir print designs. The overwhelming majority of the currently known copies are those of SP1. There are so few documented examples of the others that it is entirely possible that additional souvenir print designs still remain to be discovered. The only design whose original painting prototype is documented is SP2, but that painting SP2-0 is known only from photographs.

Rakusan always included a primary kanji signature and seal on his distributed souvenir prints, just as he did with his major series prints. With SP1 and SP2-b these were always added as part of the initial woodblock-printing process. However, on a few copies of SP2-a these were first added by hand only at the time of distribution. SP3 and SP4 are known only from uncirculated proof copies without signatures or seals.

Rakusan recognized that the souvenir prints were also an opportunity for him to advertise his name and the location of his studio. Before the war he had very much enjoyed having visitors come to his home studio where he could entertain potential clients and display his artworks, as well as make additional sales. The souvenir prints were a good way to encourage the resumption of such visits. During quiet periods at the hotel, Rakusan would add his handwritten name and address to small batches of the basic prints so that he would have a supply ready for when visitors appeared. The order of elements was not fixed and his name could precede or follow the studio address. For the later convenience of the tourists, his name and studio address were in romaji script written in an informal cursive hand. In 1947 Rakusan typically wrote this sort of romaji text using a plain lead pencil. After 1948 he wrote it with a dry brush using dilute gray or black sumi ink.

At the time of the actual sale or gift, Rakusan would add a personal dedication to the previously prepared (and often pre-addressed) print using a brush and black sumi ink. This dedication usually included Rakusan's rendition of the recipient's name in phonetic katakana script. Rakusan would then ceremoniously sign the print with a kanji signature and affix a stamped seal. By the end of the full process the print would have three signatures, two seals, and two kinds of handwritten inscriptions. Misled by the often-extensive amount of handwritten addenda (and Rakusan's tempera-like printing inks), modern owners may mistakenly presume that they own original paintings. In fact these artworks are all autographed woodblock prints.

Rakusan used some copies of souvenir prints as advertising posters. Also a limited number of copies were also distributed without dedications into the mid 1950s. However, these were apparently leftover copies and did not represent later reprintings. Some of these copies have no secondary addenda at all, and others have only the romaji name and address text. Currently, the most recent documentation of a souvenir print is a copy of SP1 with a dedication dated 1956 which omits the studio address. Since Rakusan had closed his studio operations in 1955, there can be no question that the basic print used was another leftover copy - possibly from several years earlier.

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© 2012 (revised 2015) Dr Michael J P Nichols

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