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Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design
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Author:  David Bull [ Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

In the talk about the Harunobu design (#7 in my set) I mentioned that I had been unable to trace an 'original' of this one. At first, I suspected it was 'trimmed' from the famous 'Two Lovers in the Snow' design of his, but when I looked closer, found that all the lines were different. There is another well-known design of his of a woman in the snow, usually titled 'Heron Maiden', which shows a woman with an umbrella, in similar pose, in front of a snow-capped fence, but this one too is quite different in detail.

Now matter how carefully I search, I have been unable to find the matching original of this print in any collections of Harunobu designs.

But look at this:

It's the same design, line for line. In the preface, they say that the original is from a series: "Manners and Customs - Beauties in the Four Seasons" (And thanks very much to Jacques for taking the trouble to scan and post the whole thing!)

But again, I've done a front-to-back search through every single one of my books with Harunobu prints - some of them containing hundreds of designs - and can find no trace of this, nor even any mention of that series. Is this really a Harunobu design, or just something cooked up by the enterprising Taisho publisher?

Can anybody turn up a reference to an 'original'?

Author:  Jacques Commandeur [ Sun Nov 01, 2009 1:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

I just put up somewhat larger images of this book on 'the-making-of' of this Harunobu print on my website, hopefully making it a bit easier for anybody to "read" this picture!

Author:  Tom Kristensen [ Sun Nov 01, 2009 9:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

There are a couple of different Harunobu designs of the White Heron Lady (Sagi musume) and a google search will commonly turn up the Taiso version.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has a copy of the original, it looks quite distinct, to my eye the original is superior:

Here is the text that accompanies the print:
The Heron Maiden (Sagi musume); second state of the print originally titled Winter: Snowflowers (Fuyu, mutsu no hana), from the series Fashionable Flowers of the Four Seasons (Fûzoku shiki no hana)
鷺娘 (風俗四季の華 冬 むつの華)
Japanese, Edo period, about 1769–70 (Meiwa 6–7)
Artist: Suzuki Harunobu, Japanese, 1725–1770
Vertical ôban; 34.3 x 24.7 cm (13 1/2 x 9 3/4 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper

I would post up the image, but I can't figure out how...It is hard to surf into BMFA from Google, but here is the direct link (hopefully) ... ll_start=1

Author:  David Bull [ Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

Well, there it is ... no question about it. But as to why this doesn't appear in a single one of my books, including the vast catalogue from the Chiba exhibition a few years back, is beyond me ...

And I just tried a Google image search again, on 'heron maiden', and after 21 pages it is still not there ...

Thanks Tom! When I do the 2nd edition of that David's Choice book, I'll give you a 'shout out'!

mfa_heron_maiden.jpg [ 97.21 KiB | Viewed 85081 times ]

Author:  Tom Kristensen [ Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

Heron, egret, lady, maiden... its all a bit vague for Google and the image search is less powerful.

Harunobu might be my favourite ukiyo-e artist. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has 678 Harunobu prints online. It's the place to search, but the search engine is really slow...

Author:  Julio Rodriguez [ Fri Nov 06, 2009 9:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

This link shows four different versions of the Heron Maiden by Harunobu: ... ll_start=1

Here is the image for Autumn (Aki) from the same series. Why would he had put text on this design but not on the winter one ?


Author:  David Bull [ Sat Nov 07, 2009 3:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

No real mystery about text 'missing' ... Probably nothing at all to do with Harunobu. Whoever had possession of the blocks for any print could do what he liked with them. Best guess on this one is that the print as first made was perhaps a kind of 'surimono', maybe commissioned by people with some connection to a poetry circle.

Once that was done, the workshop people used the blocks to make copies for general distribution. It's a few seconds work to gouge out the calligraphy, and presto, you now have a generic snow scene ... The MFA documentation calls theirs (without calligraphy) a 'second state', so I guess this is what they're intending ...

Author:  Tom Kristensen [ Sun Nov 08, 2009 1:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

What a lovely design Julio, I would love to know what the text is alluding to. Here's my guess, based on nothing by way of academic rigor. The young man has just gained entrance to the yard of the beautiful woman (although gender is not always straight forward). He has had to dig his way through the wall, tunneling through the bamboo sticks that reinforce the wall. He looks up at the branch of the maple tree that has simply found a way to exist inside the wall be growing tall enough to reach over the wall. Perhaps he compares his own efforts to that of the tree and regrets that he will soon be evicted, just as the tree will soon lose its leaves. The bare branches will hang on through the winter as will the memory of his visit.

The wall and the tree are common themes in Harunobu prints and I have read that the branch of the tree is symbolic of the vigour of youth. Often the branch has been torn from the tree, as youth will assert itself. Different trees carry different poetic allusions, but perhaps different walls are also meaningful. Harunobu always took as much care with his settings as he did with the figures. Maybe the people viewing these prints could identify the location of the scene by the detailing of the wall.

Author:  Jacques Commandeur [ Sun Nov 08, 2009 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Questions about the origin of the Harunobu design

Wow Tom, you certainly have a vivid imagination, and a way with words too! I very much enjoyed reading your - albeit tentative - interpretation of the story behind this Harunobu print: it definitely adds an extra dimension to its appreciation.

Just like you I am a huge fan of the prints designed by Harunobu. As you probably know, David has a great reproduction of a Harunobu print in his fourth Surimono album. I guess my all time favourite, though, is one that I found in the book produced in 2002 by the Chiba City museum of art that David mentioned in a previous post:

It's called "Dancer, Nuno-Sarashi" where nuno-sarashi apparently refers to the bleaching of textile. For some reason, just looking at this print magically brings up a spontaneous smile on my face...

HarunobuDancer.jpg [ 32.57 KiB | Viewed 85042 times ]

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