Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rakusan Woodblock Prints

These illustrations by Tsuchiya Rakusan are (mostly) from a series of 100 large woodblock prints called Rakuzan Kachou Gafu, based on paintings that Rakusan made between 1925 and 1929. They are displayed here with the permission of the Rakusan Project site.

Glossy-leafed Nandina and Brown-eared Bulbuls (Winter)
[Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica, 南天 nanten has many varieties and garden cultivars]
"This woodblock print was produced from an original painting on silk dating from the late 1920s[..]

Rakusan [..] published the print as the 1st design in his series of one hundred woodblock prints called 楽山花鳥畫譜 Rakuzan Kachou Gafu, literally:
'Rakusan's Flower and Bird Print Series'."

Male Green Peafowl/Green Peacock (Early Summer)
"In Japan all peafowl are called 孔雀 or マクジャク kujaku regardless of species. Although no peafowl species is native to Japan, two species were long ago imported as exotics and have naturalized in parks and gardens. The species depicted [..] is the Green Peafowl, Pavo muticus, which is usually today distinguished as 真孔雀 or マクジャク ma-kujaku, lit. 'true peafowl' indicating the most commonly encountered species."

Red-leafed Sumac and Japanese Grosbeaks (Winter)
"Sumac (also spelled "Sumach") or Wax Tree Rhus succedanea 櫨 haze is now often labeled as 黄櫨の木 haze-no-ki, lit. 'sumac tree'. The modifier 紅葉 kouyou, lit. 'red-leaf', refers to the color the leaves turn in autumn (as in this illustration) rather than to a variety of the tree. The gray masses hanging amid the leaves are the seed clusters.

Japanese Grosbeak or Masked Hawfinch Eophona personata has many names in Japanese. Today the bird would be called イカル ikaru 'great-beak' (a loan-translation of 'grosbeak') which can be written in kanji as 鵤, 斑鳩 lit. 'pied pigeon', or 桑鳲 lit. 'mulberry pigeon'. From the fancied resemblance of the large bill to a bean the bird may also be called 豆鳥 mame-dori lit. 'bean-bird', or 豆回し mame-mawashi lit. 'bean-turner' (from the way it moves its bill as it eats)."

Wild Chestnut, Fall-dried Japanese Yam Vine and Eurasian Jay (Late Autumn)
"Japanese Yam Dioscorea japonica is the vining plant shown weaving among the chestnut branches. いもづる (芋蔓), imo-zuru, lit. 'tuber-vine' usually refers to cultivated sweet potato vines. [..]

The descriptor 枯 (now usually 枯れ) kare means 'dry, withered, dead (of vegetation)'. いも, (also イモ, 芋, 薯, 藷, 蕷) imo is the general term for any sort of tuber, including taro and the various kinds of potatoes, as well as yams; 蔓, つる, tsuru means 'creeper, vine' which limits the application to the vining sweet potatoes and yams. Today, the native wild Japanese Yam is popularly called ヤマノイモ, やまのいも, 山(の)芋, yama no imo, lit. 'mountain-tuber'.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius カケス, かけす, 懸(け)巣, kakesu is native to Japan where it frequently eats nuts and can often be found in nut trees. The name Rakusan used 樫鳥, 橿鳥, カシ ドリ, kashi-dori, lit. 'evergreenoak-bird' is one of several popular variant names playing on the bird's fondness for acorns."

Sand Dune, Sea Bindweed, and Blue Rockthrush (Mid Summer)

Sea Bindweed, Calystegia soldanella, 浜晝顔 (now usually 浜昼顔) hama-hirugao, is a native wildflower of sandy places.

Blue Rockthrush, Monticola solitarius, 磯鵯 or イソヒヨドリ iso-hiyodori (lit. '(rocky)beach-bulbul') is also native to Japan.
"This Rakusan design is unusual in several ways. Most of the original paintings for this series date from the late 1920s, but this one had to have been from a bit later. The evidence for this is that Rakusan adapted the depiction of the bird on the left from an illustration which was not published until the spring of 1930.

The publication of the first volumes of plates and text for 鳥類寫生圖譜 (鳥類写生図譜) Chourui Shasei Zufu (CSZ) (1927-1938) was one of the main influences which inspired Rakusan to create his woodblock print series."

Glory Bower and Red-whiskered Bulbuls (Early Summer)

Bleeding-heart Glory Bower (or Clerodendron), Clerodendrum thomsoniae, 源平臭木 or げんぺいくさぎ (or as here 源平くさぎ) genpeikusagi, is an exotic tropical vine shown here growing on an unidentifiable leafless tree or shrub for support.

Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pycnonotus jocusus, 紅羅雲 or コウラウン (or as here こうらうん) kouraun is not native to Japan, but it is a popular cage and aviary bird worldwide

Re: last 2 images - "Rakusan eventually produced a series of at least 7 small, simple, woodblock prints suitable for use on winter holiday greeting cards. The designs cover a wide variety of styles and subjects, but all include snow. It is not known what Rakusan called this series of designs, so here they have been assigned the name Winter Cards. [..]

It is possible that all of the designs may date to the pre-WWII period 1936-1941, but a few could have first appeared only after the war.Producing these designs required many fewer impressions than Rakusan's typical woodblock prints. Therefore, well into the early 1950s Rakusan was able to reprint many small batches of these designs for sale and for guest gifts."
All the images above are displayed here with the permission of the hosting site: the Rakusan Project, an evolving labour of love by Dr MJP Nichols. There is a large gallery section (modest resolution) and just a few background articles so far. As inferred from the layout above, some, but not all, of the illustrations on the site are accompanied by detailed notes. [there's more to see on the site]
"Rakusan Tsuchiya* [1896-1976] was born in Kyoto and studied art under the great Kyoto artist, Seiho Takeuchi. His detailed and intricately colored woodblock prints were sold by his studio before W.W.II until around 1948. Walter Foster promoted and sold Rakusan's prints in 1950s to the market in USA." [source]
*there are a number of different English spellings of his name

Rakusan Tsuchiya in his Kyoto art studio
(undated, but probably around 1930) via CardCow

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