"MORE Look-Alike" Prints of the Early "Shin-Hanga" Era

Koho's ca1910-20's "Ueno Park" print alongside a "Look-Alike" Print (ca1910-30's)

"MORE Look-Alike" Prints.... A Few Futher Examples

Continuing with our earlier Ukiyoe-Gallery.com Article #42, "Look-Alike" Prints of the Early "Shin-Hanga" Era," we will now examine a few further interesting examples of "look-alike" prints of the early 1900's "shin-hanga" era. To collectors of these "shin-hanga" prints, these occasionally encountered “variant” designs (what we will continue to simply call "look-alike" prints) provide a fascinating study. While we today will likely never know the full story as to their evolution and production, it is certainly an interesting exercise to recognize, and then compare these "look-alike" prints. Then, armed with some knowledge, some reasonable assumptions, and a bit of common sense, we can then make some rational speculations as to their development.

With these comments, and an understanding of our prior article, let's now move on to some further examples.

Additional Examples of "Look-Alike" Prints

Koho's "Ueno Park" and a "Look-Alike" Print

As this article's first example, we will now present a strikingly similar and interesting "look-alike" copy of Koho's "chuban-sized" (7 x 10 inch) nighttime "Ueno Park" print (seen below left). This striking nighttime scene of old Tokyo belongs to the Hasegawa Publisher's "Night Scenes" series (21 designs, all nighttime images) which was produced during the early 1910-20 period. To quote Marc Kahn's Shotei.com "Night Scenes" article, "This series of prints contains the essence of shin hanga." This well-known Koho image, along side the strikingly similar (also "chuban-sized) "look-alike" print, are seen just below.

Koho's ca1910-20's "Ueno Park" print alongside a "Look-Alike" Print (ca1910-30's)

So similar are these two prints in their size, colors, and overall composition, that--IF viewed individually--the casual observer could easily then assume that they were the "exact same print." That is, however, until they are set side-by-side for a somewhat closer look. Of course, one will then immediately begin to notice some obvious differences...... Most obvious visually is the fact that the "little boy and mother" are reversed in the "look-alike" print. Upon closer inspection, then one also begins to notice that the "trees" in both prints are NOT the same. In fact, they are quite different, as the print's "largest tree and smaller companion tree" are again "reversed" (to some viewers, this observation can take a long time to "see"). Of course, we will also point out that the "look-alike" print is also totally without any markings. No artist's "signature" is present on the print, and no "publisher's identification" is seen front or back.

As with previous examples, let's now "zoom in" for a closer look......

A Closer Look at Koho's "Ueno Park" Print and the "Look-Alike" Print

Focusing now a bit closer on some of the smaller details of these prints, we do notice a few more "elemental differences" in their design. Most notable is that the Koho print's distant horizon has a "fire tower ladder" in its middle, whereas the "look-alike" print has replaced this ladder with a "multi-tiered pagoda." Further details of this horizon line have also be varied somewhat, but overall are still remarkably similiar.

Turning to an examination of the foreground's "fences," in BOTH cases each design is nearly identical. The same NUMBER of "rails" are seen in each design, so it seems in this respect, the unsigned "look-alike" was simply copied nearly directly off of the Koho design. Here, the seeming only difference in the two print's fences are slight differences in the "post-tops" of each image.

Deliberate and Observable Differences.....

To us at least, this above example seems to again validate our earlier article's assumption that (although we do NOT claim to be familiar with Japanese copyright laws of this period) the body of evidence encountered continues to indicates that as long as deliberate and observable differences were incorporated into a copied print's design, it was at that time apparently then not considered (we assume "legally") to have been a "copy." Although the above UNsigned "look-alike" print (which also lacks ANY publisher's identification) would perhaps have even been difficult to "trace" back to its source of production at the time it was produced and sold, clearly we believe that deliberately incorporated "design differences" were made to further "protect" the publisher from legal disputes. (Speculation on our part?? YES.... but we believe also certainly a reasonable assumption based on our observations.) Certainly if this unknown publisher HAD desired to a "more exact" copy, this could have been easily achieved. Apparently there were "reasons" for not doing so.

Hasui's 1933 "Evening at Soemoncho" Print and Shunho's(?) 1938 Copy

As this article's second example, we will now present a recently encountered "look-alike" that came as even a surprise to us. Viewed as an offering in a recent December on-line auction was a print that immediately caught our eye. The well-known 1933 nighttime Hasui street scene titled "Evening at Soemoncho, Osaka" of which many viewers are already familiar, in fact it seems, has a "look-alike" copy. Although we were unfortunately not able to view the "look-alike" print firsthand, we will show and tell you what we can. Both prints are seen just below.

Hasui's 1933 "Evening at Soemoncho, Osaka" Print and Shunho's(?) 1938 "Evening at Soemoncho, Osaka" Print

Of course, Hasui's 1933 "Evening at Soemoncho, Osaka" print is well documented ("Kawase Hasui -- The Complete Woodblock Prints"), so we know without doubt that it was a 1933 design whose "image rights" belonged to Watanabe Publisher. As was the case with nearly all "shin-hanga" prints of the period, the artist simply designed either a sketch or watercolor image, which was sold to and then became the sole property of the publisher. (In this respect, artists such as Hiroshi Yoshida were--if not smarter--at least better businessmen, in that they soon departed from their earlier publisher's employment and began to self-publish their own designs--of course, allowing them to maintain control and benefit monetarily from EACH print produced.)

Turning to the very much "look-alike" print, we are told that the artist is perhaps named Shunho (?)--a name unknown to us (despite having in our possession an as yet UNpublished 785+ page "Japanese Woodblock Print Artist" reference that far exceeds the standard "Merritt and Yamada" reference). Unfortunately, this artist's name remains unverifiable, as we cannot see a "signature" on this dark image print. We can, however, clearly see that this "Evening at Soemoncho" print's publisher was Baba Nobuhiko (lower left margin) , a Kyoto publisher active from the 1930's until the mid 1950's. Additionally, as reported, the print clearly is margin-dated (mid-left margin) as having been produced in 1938.

Little else of a technical nature can be said about this five-year-later 1938 copy, other than to conclude that it is, in our opinion, clearly a COPY. Of course, one could argue that in 1938 our artist named "Shunho" needed to have simply stood in exactly the SAME place as did Hasui when he first produced his design in 1933. Certainly little would have changed during these five short years......and this is possible..... however, our eyes tell us otherwise. To the contrary, an examination of the "elemental similarities" of both prints strong suggests (at least to us) that our friend "Shunho" more than likely simply COPIED his sketch directly from Hasui's then widely available print.

Why We Believe "Shunho's" Print IS a Simply a Copy

In support of our opinion, we will largely let the viewer reach his or her own conclusions as to the "copy" versus "later original sketch" argument. We believe one needs to only look closely, and to simply trust their own eyes.....

A Closer Look at Hasui's ""Evening at Soemoncho, Osaka" Print and the Shunho's "Look-Alike" Print

However, in case a little help is needed, we will offer the following observations. In BOTH prints, the "group of three persons" and "distant individual" seen are nearly identical. And interestingly, in fact five years later, they're even seen to be wearing the same colored clothing!! Both prints have largely the same lighting to both sky and foregrounds. Both prints share nearly the exact "viewing angle" AND chosen "field of view." And finally, if one still believes that "Shunho's" sketch was made ON LOCATION in 1938, one must then also ask, "What happened to the telephone pole that has seemingly disappeared five years later??"

(Yep......we think it's indeed a copy.)

Koson's 1910-23 "Nuthatcher/Persimmon" Print and Seitei's 1930's Copy

As our third example, we will offer up a final, perhaps "less than obvious" example of two "look-alike" prints that also caught our discerning sets of eyes. Admittedly, perhaps we're "seeing more than there really is," but it seems that the more one "trains" his or her own powers of observation, then more that one then begins to notice that which would have otherwise simply gone by unnoticed. Again, in the final analysis, we'll let you (the reader) decide what's a copy and what's an entirely independently designed and original print.

This "less than obvious" pair of prints of which we speak is a delightful pair of kacho-e (bird and flower) prints from the early 1900's. The "original design" of this pair (in our opinion) is seen below to the left--Koson's colorful pre-earthquake "kacho-e" image, "Nuthatcher atop a Persimmon." The then known-to-be-later design, Seitei's 1930's "Bird on a Persimmon Tree" print (below right), we clearly suspect was, in fact, COPIED from Koson's earlier design. Full images of both these prints are seen just below.

Koson's 1910-23 "Nuthatcher atop a Persimmon" Print and Seitei's LATER 1930's "Bird on a Persimmon Tree" Print

As is the case with Hasui's prints, Koson's prints are also fairly well documented ("Crows, Cranes and Camellias: The Natural World of Ohara Koson"), so here again we do KNOW that Koson's pre-earthquake design, published by Daikoku-ya Publisher (a publisher who went out of business following the devastating 1923 Tokyo earthquake), clearly pre-dates the later (ca1930's) Seitei design which we know was published by the Shima Art Company (active 1930's).

At issue here then is not "which print came first"--but rather, our contention that the Seitei-designed print was, in fact, COPIED directly from Koson's earlier design. Admittedly, at first glance these two "bird/persimmon" prints ARE clearly different.....with that, we will not argue. We would even suspect that likely a majority of viewers would immediately conclude that Seitei's print is "obviously" not a copy. But before one dismisses our speculation altogether, let's again "zoom in" for a closer look.

A Closer Look at Koson's 1910-23 "Nuthatcher atop a Persimmon" Print and Seitei's LATER 1930's Copy

Why We Believe Seitei's Print is Likely a Copy

By focusing "closely" onto only the SINGLE dark red persimmon fruit upon which the little bird is perched, it seems to us that our little "Nuthatcher friend" has reappeared after the Great Earthquake of 1923 to again land on the "same fruit" in exactly the "same position." That is, head held the same, left wing the same, and tail-feathers erect in the same manner. The fruit even seems to have matured to the same dark-reddish-orange ripeness. And even perhaps more tellingly, each fruit has the SAME-looking "double pair of birds feet" (complete with hooked toenails) arched across their tops.

OK, now admittedly we are "going out on a limb" with this speculation....... But again, at least to our eyes, we strongly believe that the 1930's Seitei image was taken DIRECTLY FROM Koson's earlier "Nuthatcher atop a Persimmon" image. Likely this colorful little "kacho-e" print was simply observed at that time to have been a popular-selling tourist print, so the Shima Art Company likely commissioned a similar "re-design" of the earlier Koson image. Until what is impossible to achieve occurs (that is, for someone to "prove" otherwise), we will continue to believe that our observations of "elemental similarities" of both prints strong suggests that Seitei's print was most likely COPIED directly from Koson's earlier design.

A Few Concluding Remarks

These above three additional examples of a "look-alike" prints have been presented to our readers for both their education and their simple enjoyment. It is indeed the primary purpose of these prints to simply bring us enjoyment...... and to some viewers, to provide a metamorphosis away from today's tensions to what is perceived to have been a more distant and peaceful past.

It is also our continuing assertion that present-day collectors of "shin-hanga" prints CAN still today discover new insights into the collective study of "shin-hanga" prints. To demonstrate this truth, as an example one needs to look no farther than to our very good friend, Marc Kahn, who in the not too distant past began his "Shotei.com" website--an in-depth study of the works of the prolific "shin-hanga" artist Shotei. (It is, in fact, further instructive to note that WE sold to Marc his very first Japanese woodblock print only a very few short years ago!!) Marc's tireless research and resulting well-documented articles are an inspiration to us and continue to provide to us all a shining example of what can be accomplished when some effort is combined with lots of enthusiasm.

We believe that the most important assets to a further study of Japanese prints are simply an open mind and a clear eye. When viewing prints, one needs only to allow them to set one's mind into motion.

Please Let Us Know.....

Please shoot us an email at Ukiyoe Gallery and let us know if you've enjoyed these two articles on "Look-Alike Prints." We can certainly add a few further interesting examples if our readership's interest is sufficiently strong to warrant doing so.

Literature (and print) sources used in preparation of this and other articles include:

Above documented prints courtesty of: Ukiyoe-Gallery

"Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975", by Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-1732-X

"Kawase Hasui -- The Complete Woodblock Prints", by Kendall H. Brown & Shoichiro Watanabe, Hotei (KIT) Publishing, Netherlands, ISBN 90-74822-46-0

"Crows, Cranes and Camellias: The Natural World of Ohara Koson", by Amy Reigle Newland, Jan Perree, Robert Schaap, Hotei (KIT) Publishing, Netherlands, ISBN 90-74822-38-X

(c) Thomas Crossland and Dr. Andreas Grund, December, 2003

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