Can you see the river in this print? Well, although no actual water is visible, that famous river is the theme of this image. We are looking at one print from a large set devoted to 'Famous Products of Edo' (researchers have found 13 images so far ...). The series was commissioned by a poetry group in about 1812, and was designed by Hotei Gosei, whose signature and seal appear at the right side of the image.
Unlike many Edo-era surimono, there seems to be nothing mysterious or difficult to understand about this print - the banks of the Sumida River were a famous o-hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spot, and a flask of o-sake and some 'nibbles' (whitefish in this case) were an essential component of any outing to see the blossoms, as they still are to this day.
I am particularly pleased to be able to bring you this image - for a number of reasons. One is that I think you have probably never heard of this artist before; it is my special 'promise' that these Surimono Albums will help expose and bring to light unknown treasures, and this print certainly qualifies! A second reason is that this is the first print I am making with the cooperation of the Chiba City Museum of Art. This museum owns many fabulous Edo-era surimono, and I have been hoping for some years that they would allow me access to their collection. Late last year I finally had a chance to see some of their prints up close, and they also gave me permission to include some in my albums. I hope that I will be able to bring you many more of their prints in coming years. I think that Japanese collectors of this album may be particularly pleased to hear this news, because I am sure that you are quite tired of hearing about all the wonderful Japanese prints that left this country and which are now held by overseas collectors and institutions. They are not all 'gone' ...
There is yet one more reason for my pleasure with this print, but I'm not sure if I dare talk about it ... again. Long-time collectors of my work know that I am constantly talking to people about 'how' to look at these prints - about how they look best when overhead lights in the room are turned off. But not everybody has been listening! One of the collectors was visiting me recently, and when we were looking at some of the prints he exclaimed "These are different from the prints you have been sending me! These are much more beautiful!" I promised him that no, they were exactly the same, but I knew what was 'wrong' - he had simply never looked at his own prints in the way that I recommended, in raking light.
I'm sorry to be a broken record, but please let me emphasize once more that a woodblock print like this is not just a 'picture' drawn by one man, but is a three-dimensional object made by a group of people, and that it needs to be viewed in the proper light to be fully seen properly. And it is because this print in particular looks so fabulous that way with the embossings fully visible that I bring this point up once more. (I promise not to hector you again about this ... at least not for a couple of months!)
So the third Surimono Album is now under way. By the time you see this print, I will be deep in the carving work on the second one, which is another image that I have been looking forward to for a long time. As usual, I won't announce it in advance though ...
At the exhibition each year, I always refuse to divulge my plan for the upcoming album, and I know that this costs me some orders; some people are understandably reluctant to order something they can't see. Perhaps I am making a mistake with this policy. But perhaps not - together with the final print of the previous album, I enclosed a reply postcard asking collectors if they wished to continue with the next album. There was a small 'comments' space on the postcard, and I enjoyed this chance to hear some feedback from the collectors. One particular comment was repeated again and again - "It is interesting to always wonder what will be coming next!"
Thank you for your trust in me - I will do my best not to disappoint you!