Kubo Shunman
Magnolia Blossoms
c. 1810

Signed: Shunman sei and logo; surimono, shikishi-ban, 21.0 x 18.5 cm; nishiki-e with kimekomi

From “A Collection of Plants for the ‘Mist Circle’” This surimono print shows the large, bluish flowers of the Rose of Sharon (kihachisu) on the right, and the pure white Kobushi magnolia on the left. On the upper left is a poem by Oshio Yamamochi, a member of the “Mist Circle”. Between 1810 and 1820 Shunman created some of the most beautiful surimono in ukiyo-e history, like this print for which he seems to have cut the block himself (the signature is augmented by “sei” –“done by himself”).

Provenance: Kensaburō Wakai; Horst A. Rittershofer (Berlin, November 1965)
Riese Collection #52

Around 1800 a schism took place in the publication of Japanese woodblock prints. Until that date commercial publishers employed the finest printers and engravers and commanded the services of the best designers of the day. Around 1800 however, partly as a result of economic prosperity, partly as a result of the Kansei Reforms of the 1790s breaking the monopoly of certain publishers of woodblock prints, an enormous number of small publishing firms began issuing woodblock prints. The result was that commercial prints became rather hand and conventional, and connoisseurs of elegant printing were no longer satisfied. More and more patrons whose taste had been refined by the prints of Utamaro and other artists from the 1790s began privately commissioning small calendar prints, and asking artists to design prints for them privately to commemorate gatherings or special events. By 1810, the designers of the surimono, as these exquisitely-printed objects were known, settled on a squarish format reminiscent of shikishi, prepared cards on which poems were written, or paintings displayed. Between the early 1810s when this format had been settled on, and the 1820s when he died, Shunman designed some of the loveliest of all surimono, of which this series is a fine example. Shunman’s prints are so accomplished, and so superior to those of any artist of this decade, that there is reason to suppose that he may have engraved and printed them himself. This would explain the use of the character sei, “fabricated” after his name on prints of this and other series. It might also explain why Shunman’s name with the familiar sei appears on prints designed by Hokkei for that artist’s series of surimono for chapters of the Tosa Nikki. It might also explain why the round Shunman seal appears on certain prints that are so awkwardly composed and drawn that it seems incredible he could have designed them.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 45a.

The poem by Oshio Yamamochi, a member of the Mist Circle, associates spring bracken with magnolia blossoming in a fair breeze:

Sawarabi wa
nani oyobumashi
itsuka no kaze ni
kobushi hirakeri