Rakusan Tsuchiya – Plum & Peacock


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Rakusan, Tsuchiya


(A) Very Fine Condition




Early Edition




Self published


O-hosoban (6.75"x15")


Birds / Beasts, Plants & Flowers

A very rare print by an exceptional Tsuchiya Rakusan from early in his career, this is the second time we’ve had a copy of this print come through our gallery.

Copied in part from Dr Michael J P Nichol’s website The Rakusan Archive Project,

It is not part of any known series, and its style is not characteristic of Rakusan’s mature works. Questions remain about its authenticity, but there are no conclusive reasons to believe that [this print] is not by Rakusan.

The woodblock print is one third the size of the normal Rakusan double-oban sheets. The paper has chain-lines similar to other stocks of paper used by Rakusan for his main sequence series. The kanji signature is comparable to other genuine Rakusan signatures. Although seal P has not been found on any other artwork, there are many such unique Rakusan seals, and seal P is not otherwise exceptional.

The most plausible explanation is that this woodblock is a very early work by Rakusan. The print makes use of gold-colored metallic pigments which were increasingly unavailable after the mid 1930s. From 1929 through 1935 Rakusan was busy printing his major series and there is no evidence of woodblock prints unrelated to those series being made during that time. Rakusan had begun producing and selling woodblock prints before 1920 while still a Seiho apprentice, and there is no indication that he had stopped anytime in the 1920s or 1930s. Although Rakusan opened his studio in about 1925, the first acknowledged woodblock print from his studio appeared only in early 1929. Rakusan is known to have drastically edited his own holdings on several occasions, and especially if this woodblock was an early work, it might not have passed later reviews. Although no record of this woodblock exists in the Tsuchiya Family collection, there are also no records there of the indisputably genuine Western Flowers designs he produced for Maria Gabo.

One strong reason why Rakusan may have suppressed records of this woodblock is that (like Western Flowers) the design is derived directly from the work of other artists. It is also in a deliberately archaic style totally unlike what was to become Rakusan’s trademark style. The early 1920s saw a wide array of similar plum and peafowl prints produced by the large printing houses. Those prints were very popular, sold well, and remain available in large numbers today. Rakusan was often quoted on the difficulty of printing with bokashi techniques. It is entirely possible that he wanted to demonstrate his command of that skill, as well as to share in the lucrative sales of these designs. In any event, the background bokashi colors and placements on the Rakusan version are identical to those in an earlier similar work by Ito Sozan for Watanabe from the early 1920s. However, the bird more resembles corresponding Koson designs for Watanabe from slightly later. The signature and seal placement of the Sozan and Rakusan versions are the same and both signatures include 山 zan. The similarities are sufficiently close that the two prints are sometimes mistaken one for the other.

As we’ve shown in other pieces, we appreciate a good mystery and a rare collectible print!

The Woodblock Print

The woodblock print is in very fine condition with intact margins, strong and even color, and no significant discolorations. Gold pigments strong in the eyes of the peacock feathers. A clean verso. Some miniscule surface level foxing near the peacock’s head at close inspection.

About the Artist

Tsuchiya Rakusan (土屋楽山, 1896 – 1976) was a Japanese artist known for his intricate and detailed paintings of birds and flowers (kacho-e). Born in Kyoto, Rakusan grew up in a family of artists and was exposed to the traditional Japanese art forms of painting and calligraphy at an early age. He attended the Kyoto City School of Fine Arts, where he studied under the prominent painter Takeuchi Seiho.

Rakusan’s style was heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese painting technique of nihonga, which emphasizes the use of natural pigments and a meticulous attention to detail. His paintings often featured birds and flowers set against a background of gold leaf, and his use of color and composition created a sense of depth and texture in his works.

Rakusan’s career as an artist was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Japanese military. After the war, he returned to painting and exhibited his works in Japan and abroad. His paintings were highly sought after by collectors, and his works were exhibited in prominent galleries, including the Tokyo National Museum and the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.

During 1920s through 1950s, Rakusan built a successful career as a print artist. He produced his most successful series, “Rakusan Kacho Gafu” (Rakusan Flower and Bird Series), between 1929 and 1933. Based on paintings he had completed between 1925 and 1929, the 100 large-scale woodblock prints proved so popular that many designs remained in print until his studio closed in 1955.

In addition to his paintings, Rakusan also worked as an illustrator and designer, creating book covers and illustrations for publications. He was also a teacher, and he mentored many young artists in the traditional techniques of nihonga painting.

Rakusan’s contributions to the art world were widely recognized during his lifetime. He was awarded numerous prizes and honors, including the Order of Culture, one of Japan’s highest civilian honors. Today, his works are held in collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.


  • “Tsuchiya Rakusan” by Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 1981
  • “Tsuchiya Rakusan” by Tsuchiya Rakusan, 1970
  • “Japanese Painting: A Concise History” by Gregory Irvine, Thames & Hudson, 2008.