Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Tachibana Morikuni’s woodblock print, “The Wild Goose”, 1749



Tachibana Morikuni 橘守国 (1679–1748)

“The Wild Goose”, 1748? (Kan'en Era), published by Nishimura Genroku 西村源六 in collaboration with Shibukawa Seiemon 渋川清右衛門 and Shibukawa Yoichi 渋川与 in 1749— a year after the artist’s death—in volume 2 of the three-volume set of prints featuring birds, flowers and animals, “Unpitsu soga” 運筆麁画 (trans. “The Moving Brush in ‘Rough’Painting).

Two-panel woodblock printed in black ink on paper joined at the centre as a single image and lined with a support sheet.
Size: (assembly of sheets) 26.7 x 31.2 cm

The British Museum offers a description of “Unpitsu soga” in which this print features:

Ref: Toda, Kenji 1931,”Descriptive Catalogue of the Japanese and Chinese Illustrated Books in the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago”, Chicago, p. 319.
See also: Jack Hillier & Lawrence Smith 1980, “Japanese Prints: 300 Years of Albums and Books”, London, BMP.

Condition: a coarsely printed but elegantly minimal impression that is part of the 'so' or cursive style designed to capture the freshness of a sketch. There are small insect holes, old patches of backing restorations and signs of handling appropriate to the centuries of use since the print was published. The two panels of woodblock prints that make up the complete composition have been pasted together and laid upon a support sheet.

I am selling this rare impression of supreme minimalism and compositional elegance for AU$214 (currently US$168.36/EUR136.27/GBP121.45 at the time of posting this listing). Postage for this print is extra and will be the actual/true cost.

If you are interested in purchasing this early and very poetic diptych woodblock print. please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.


There are two very similar plates featuring the flying goose in the three volumes of “Unpitsu soga”. In volume 1 (see http://pulverer.si.edu/node/956/title/1), the goose is shown flying to the lower left and in volume 2 (see http://pulverer.si.edu/node/956/title/2the goose—as shown in this impression—is flying to the lower right. This raises the question in my mind regarding why the artist chose such similar images in mirror directions to each other.

As a proposal, I wonder if the goose in the first volume is an “arriving” goose while the goose in the second volume is a “leaving” goose. My reason for this assumption (which is likely to be flawed as I really don’t know) is simply because this noisy bird heralds the change of seasons when it arrives from its long flight from Siberia (or wherever geese are meant to migrate from). Moreover, I like to believe that the goose in volume one, which shows a more detailed rendering of the bird, is the graphic equivalent of a real bird whereas the goose in volume two—this print—is the graphic equivalent of the ghost of a memory: a goose farewell.

Regarding the technique used in this rather extraordinary print, the Curator of the British Museum offers the following insights (extracted from Hillier and Smith 1980):

“The woodblock technique is an early example of the method of securing gradated tonal effects by 'lowering' or scraping certain areas of the blocks and thus approaching the appearance of real brushwork more closely.” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3511331&partId=1&searchText=1979,0305,0.92.2&page=1





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