Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lucky dreams five months late

With this post a further 7 months late... all I can hope for is that my PhD thesis does not befall the same fate.
Hacio gave me a calendar for Christmas this year of details from woodcuts by Rinsai Utsushi (active, c. 1869 - 1890).  The image for the month of May stood out, not only is Mt Fuji snow capped in the distance, there is also an Otaka (goshawk) as the detailed feature in the fore-ground, and the artist name stamp in shape of an eggplant.  

The calendar was put out by a Dutch company, and by the looks of things by designers who are not woodcut enthusiasts, otherwise I think the three lucky dream images associated with New Years Eve would appear as the picture for January.
Below is the print in full.
I did a fairly extensive search for some more information on Utsushi. But not much is online- only a brief entry on a commercial woodcut dealers site that lists his main subjects as Kacho-ga or Kacho-e -flowers and birds. This subject matter started to become popular in the Meiji period and was further developed by the Shin hang print movement. 

However  in the West, by the turn of last century "birds and flowers" was considered to be the genre of women "hobbyists" and I wonder whether this dismissive attitude has contributed to the absence of Utsushi's work from the collections of the Smithsonian, British Museum, V& A, and all Australian state art galleries. There are two prints in the Canadian Museum - the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The AGGV has the largest holdings of Japanese art in Canada and like many regional museums the collection is often made up from gifts from local citizens, in this case Mr. & Mrs. William Hepler. Unfortunately the online search facility only allows for searches via artist and artwork title, so I was unable to see what else Mr. & Mrs. William Hepler donated and perhaps make an assessment of Utsushi standing within their collection or even to find out some more information about who where the Heplers. 

All of these dead ends and small findings pose the question about what is collectible, what has ongoing cultural significance and what does not. Utsushi's prints sell for US$250 on some Internet print galleries, which is not much but more than some listed on bay. Is it time to start my own Mt Fuji oban collection? Hmmm... that sounds like more procrastination... 

(if you click on the link for Kacho-e and then the link to Parrots and Birds, you can see that the birds are either Macaws or Australian short-tailed parrots... now there another story to look into... but at least that one is somewhat closer to my Phd thesis...)