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Hiyodori and Nanten

Posted by Dave Bull at 3:35 PM, December 10, 2005

You well know that I like to hunt up relatively obscure designs and bring them to you, but doing so sometimes brings me a problem - it's frequently difficult to find useful and interesting information on the print in question. That is definitely the case this time; I have been able to find absolutely nothing beyond the designer's name and the title of the print series.

He was Nakayama Sugaku, who worked in the very late Edo period, just before the birth of the Meiji-era, and he left a set of designs for a print series that might be best translated as '48 Lifelike Birds'. And that - in total - is all I have been able to find out about him, even with extensive internet searching.

The prints in the series are quite modern and forward-looking for their time, and it seems unusual that a designer of this caliber would remain so unknown. My guess is that he was actually an active artist of the period, but used this particular art-name on just this single occasion.

These prints predate the era of photography of course, and when I look over some of the images in the series, I find myself wondering how he managed to study so many different birds in such detail. They seem really quite accurate.

I myself can vouch for the accuracy of this image, because there is a sizeable flock of hiyodori (Bulbul) living in the area just outside my workroom. There are about a dozen of them, and they move around the area all in a group together, looking for food. All summer they fly up into the inner branches of trees, and twisting their heads this way and that, look for insects hiding on the lower surfaces of leaves.

They occasionally perch on the balcony railing right in front of my workbench window, and I had the wonderful pleasure one day while I was making this print, of lifting my head up from carving the rather bedraggled-looking head feathers, to see the real thing - looking just as bedraggled - sitting just a couple of feet in front of me!

Monday, December 12, 2005

(Here's the print in context in the Treasure Chest series.)


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