33 folding double-page woodcut illus. 8vo, oblong orihon (accordion format), orig. blue patterned wrappers, remains of block-printed title label on upper cover. [Sun’yo (today’s Shizuoka): 1822].
First edition of this very beautiful book, with 33 extremely subtle double-page woodcuts depicting Mt. Fuji, the most beautiful and solitary of all mountains, in various times of the year and in different states of weather. This is a complex book, and we find in our investigations of other copies, each one demonstrates considerable variations.
“Sano Shinkei, ‘True Pictures of the King of Mountains’, with prints after drawings by Myoo Shuga [Hillier makes a mistake here, giving the name Myoo], can only be seen as the outcome of an obsession. This folding album is of oblong pictures measuring 180 x 455 mm. when opened out, and it was published in 1822. Throughout the fifteen [sic] views, the main outline of Fuji barely changes, though the snow-line varies with the season: the focus is on the clouds that invest the peak, and a fanciful name is found for the forms that break the outline of the mountain. The print…portraying a cloud sitting over the crest, and more solid than the mountain, is inevitably named kasagumo, ‘bamboo-hat cloud’. The book seems to be the solitary known work of Myoo Shuga, and we are bound to wonder why this strange series of diagrams was considered to warrant such gorgeous, surimono-line printing, enhanced by gauffrage and sprinkled silver powder.”–Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, p. 872.
The woodcut illustrations display the greatest delicacy and subtlety: the woodcuts are printed on soft paper, imparting a certain translucency to the printed images. As a result, the images of Mt. Fuji in this work have a somewhat eerie and ethereal quality, with large empty areas within each image. The printer has employed bokashi (the delicate gradation or shading of the density of colors), but instead of only one color, several colors are used. There is ample embossing. Many of the images use “boneless” lines to vary the shapes and impact of the mountain. The combination of the soft durable paper, skilled printing, use of bokashi in a very complex way, and embossing serves to create a work of considerable refinement.
As mentioned above, every copy of this work seems to be different. For example, the rather wormed British Museum example has three leaves of woodblock-printed preface, a double-page landscape that includes Mt. Fuji in the distance, and red printed titles in the right-hand side of many of the plates. These are not present in our copy. The coloring ranges from slightly different to very different. But the BM copy lacks one of the plates with text, which is present in our copy.
Hillier describes the Ravicz copy as having only 15 double-page plates. He also states that there is sprinkled silver powder; we see no evidence of this in the BM or Metropolitan Museum of Art copies nor in our copy. In the Shinshu University copy, there is also a printed two-page Afterword, not present in the BM, MMA, or our copy. It is interesting to note that Shinshu’s preface is only two pages in length with different text. Also, the illustrations that normally have text are free of text. The plate named “Boshigumo” in our copy has an extra three lines of text, which appears to be unique.
Fine copy, preserved in a wooden box. A few unimportant spots.
Item ID: 8213