The Tokuno Gift -- About the Collection

About the Collection

Wood block print, titled “Farmers”

To view a listing of objects without the introductory text, click here.

The Tokuno donation comprised about 200 objects. There were 44 tools used for cutting and printing the wood blocks, with 17 samples of pigments used for the colors. The tools appear to be new, so presumably they were purchased to make up the complete package. There were 21 wood blocks and 71 progressive color proofs and prints made for a triptych, three images intended to be joined for viewing. Beyond the seven watercolors showing the process, there was also a selection of additional prints and books not related to the triptych series of blocks and prints, including a sequence of 35 progressive proofs for a delicate botanical image, Nandina domestica. Most of these items have been imaged and are shown below, with a few exceptions that represent losses, inevitable in such an old collection that was moved and reinstalled several times.

Left: The key block for printing the general outline of the design. Middle: The block for registering the carmine color to the print. Right: Prints showing the addition of the carmine color in the kimono.

In recent years several scholars have visited NMAH to view the collection, and we have learned a good deal from their research as featured in their exhibitions and publications. A 2012-2013 exhibition at the Smart Museum of the University of Chicago, Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints, included blocks, tools, and prints lent by NMAH. It presented some parallels between developments in color printing that occurred in France and Japan from the 18th through the early 20th centuries in the context of their interactions and further developments in China and Europe.

Each color added to the print requires a seperately cut and inked plank. This gif shows the progressive prints in series as colors are added, leading to the completed triptych shown at the top of the page.

“Farmers” (Nō), a scene related to A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji)

Each color added to the print requires a separately cut and inked plank. This gif shows the progressive prints in series as colors are added, leading to the completed triptych shown at the top of the page.

In an essay for the Awash in Color catalogue, Andreas Marks discussed the NMAH triptych -- Inaka [Rustic] Genji -- and compared it with the only other known copy, which is located at the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto. As Dr. Marks noted, the triptych was designed by Utagawa Kuniteru II and published by Daikokuya (Matsuki) Heikichi. Originally it was intended to be one of a series of four triptychs, but no other designs from the series are known. The subject, titled “Farmers” (Nō), belongs to a subgenre of ukiyo-e called Genjie (‘Genji pictures’), which depict characters and scenes based on Murasaki Shikibu’s classic novel The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) written about the year 1000. The NMAH triptych was published about 1870 and intended as a print series related to A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasaki inaka Genji), a very popular 19th-century serial novel written by Ryūtei Tanehiko and published in parts from 1829 to 1842. It seems likely that by the late 1880s the publisher realized that these prints would not in fact be issued and so the blocks became available for Tokuno’s agency to send to the U.S. The three key blocks with the line images for the triptych date from 1869, and pigment analysis carried out on a surviving impression in Japan bears out this chronology. Recent research by Columbia Professor Henry Smith suggests, however, that the color blocks may have been cut later. The color wood blocks and the edition of prints made from them may have been produced specifically for the Smithsonian as the colors are quite different from the other surviving set in Japan.