Preparatory Drawing of 'Annual Events and Customs of the Eastern Capital: Seventh Month'
(Azuma fuzoku nenju gyoji: Shichi-gatsu)
sumi ink on paper with red under-drawing, inscribed at upper right corner, Aya-?-, shichigatsu (patterned twill cloth -?, 7th month), ca. 1890
14 1/8 by 9 1/2 in., 36 by 24.2 cm
This composition depicting a beauty playing a koto is a preliminary drawing for Chikanobu's scarce 1890 series, Annual Events and Customs of the Eastern Capital which illustrated women engaging in seasonal activities according to the twelve months. This drawing is particularly interesting because it displays the mechanics of the artist's process in assembling a composition. While the figure was worked up from the lively red under-drawing, most of the background is very generally sketched without dwelling too much on the details, with the exception of the confidently rendered lantern at left. Ironically, it is that very detail that is changed in the final print where it is replaced with a more graphic red lacquer Chinese lantern.
The paucity of available impressions of prints from this series may be a reflection of some financial struggles on the part of the publisher, Hasegawa Sonokichi, who was not particularly prolific nor well-established, having only entered the woodblock print industry in circa 1877 (during a period when the market was contracting). This bijin series with Chikanobu was only the fourth titled series he attempted to produce, and appears to have been his last foray publishing along the lines of a classic ukiyo-e theme. Although all twelve designs appear to have been released, it seems likely that he only managed to fund the printing of a small number (perhaps just one or two batch of 200) as extant impressions are very scarce. After an apparent period of hiatus from color woodblock printing beginning in 1891, Sonokichi resumed publishing in 1894, focusing his efforts on the sudden appetite in the market for exciting and patriotic images pertaining to first the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-5, and then the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, ceasing activity in the woodblock print market shortly thereafter.
Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, pp. 101-102 (Hasegawa Sonokichi)
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