“The Apogee”

Meizan zufu [An Album of Famous Mountains].

88 fine double-page woodcuts. 34; 31; 37 folding leaves. Three vols. Large 8vo (295 x 198 mm.), orig. wrappers, orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers (each label partly defective), new stitching. Edo: [privately printed by “Shohakudo,” the pen name of Juan Kawamura], 1804.

First edition and very rare; the reprints are far more common (for instance, the BM has only the 1812 edition). Buncho (1763-1840), was considered in his day to be one of the two greatest painters in Edo; he mastered several styles of painting including nanga (Chinese), Western (he travelled to Nagasaki to learn Western techniques, especially perspective and shading methods), and Japanese idioms such as rinpa and yamato-e. He travelled widely throughout Japan in his early years, sketching and painting; he served Sadanobu Matsudaira (1759-1829), as court painter. He was extremely versatile and worked in many genres.

We learn from Buncho’s Preface that, from his youth, he loved mountainous landscapes and frequently made sketches of famous, quite inaccessible mountains during his travels throughout Japan. Buncho became friendly with the successful and highly cultured doctor, Juan Kawamura (d. 1815), of Edo. The two shared a common love for fine realistic paintings of mountains. In fact, Kawamura was a major collector of important landscape paintings, including many by Buncho. In the summer of 1802, the two friends made a selection of views of mountains from Kawamura’s own collection and had them rendered in great detail by a distinguished wood-carver, Zuiendo Kinkame, for the present book. Buncho and Kawamura considered this book to be an art manual (etehon). Buncho’s adoption of aerial perspectives was truly new and “realistic” for the time. The mountains depicted are from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south.

The edition was deliberately small and closely distributed to friends and interested people. As Tim Clark points out in the BM description of the 1812 edition, “while such works already existed showing the famous mountains of China, this was the first time the same had been done for Japan, and in a style that ‘copied the truth’ (shinsha).”

“Nihon Meizan Zue [1810, {but really 1812}] ‘Pictures of Famous Mountains of Japan’ (or, in the earliest edition, Meizan Zufu, ‘Chart of Famous Mountains’), 1804, represents the apogee of this kind of mountain landscape in woodcut, and holds a high place in Japanese esteem, as much, perhaps, for the seriousness of the intent to provide a convincing series of pictures of notable peaks of the Japanese heartland as for any intrinsic artistic merit. But it has that merit, too, for nobody can deny the mastery of the artist, now creating his own representations of native mountains, capturing the awesome majesty of each of these eighty-eight notable peaks, and maintaining an unflagging variety and interest, even though there are few evidences of human habitation. There is a firm grasp of structure; the ranges have more body and there are darker, more solid, images than those in the Hyokyaku book. The cun are not merely symbolic contours…but intended to give the actual features of the mountain faces…The near-realism of these drawings is thought to have had some influence on landscape prints by Ukiyo-e artists, who, up to that time, with the exception of Hokusai, had not conceived landscapes of the descriptive, topographical kind that were perfected much later by Hiroshige, Eisen and one or two others.”–Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Books, pp. 636-37.

Siebold based his famous illustrations of Japanese mountains in Nippon on his copy of this work.

A very good set, printed on fine paper. The wrappers have some careful paper restorations. Several small wormholes in each that are not offensive. There are some careful paper restorations of further wormholes that are very largely marginal or in the extremities of the woodblock image. Some dampstaining towards the end of Vol. III.

❧ For an extremely informative article on the background of the book, see https://catalog.lib.kyushu-u.ac.jp/opac_download_md/7987/p039_rp.pdf (accessed 25 April 2019).

Price: $12,500.00

Item ID: 6619

See all items in Art, Japan, Japanese
See all items by