Saiga shokunin burui [trans.: Colored Pictures of Occupations of Workmen]
by TACHIBANA, Minko
Numerous fine woodcuts with stencilled color throughout. 20 folded leaves; 15 folded leaves. Two vols. Large 8vo, later silk covered wrappers, new stitching. Tokyo: 1770. First edition; a book of considerable beauty and rarity. This work depicts twenty-eight craftsmen, each at work in a different traditional profession; it is a famously beautiful book merging illustration with technology and poetry. Our copy comes from the celebrated library of Japanese books formed by Donald and Mary Hyde (her sale, Christie's New York, 7 October 1988, lot 123). Tachibana, while not as famous as Sharaku and Utamaro, was active as an illustrator in the second half of the 18th century, the period during which the ukiyo-e prints reached their zenith of their artistic and technical excellence. Tachibana, originally an embroiderer of decorative designs on fabrics in the Kansai area, felt he was better suited as an artist and began to make woodblock prints in the manner of Sukenobu, who had become famous for his Kansai-style ukiyo-e. After mastering this style, Minko moved to Tokyo and adopted the very different "beautiful women" style of Harunobu. Becoming well-known for his book illustrations, Tachibana issued a series of books between 1751 and 1771 which enjoyed considerable success. This beautifully illustrated book pictures twenty-eight crafts: hatter, mirror polisher, carpenter, swordsmith, armorer, cordmaker, maker of hairdress ties, weaver, papermaker, engraver, maker of bamboo blinds, quivermaker, basketmaker, ballmaker, glassblower, fanmaker, koto (Japanese harp) maker, maskmaker, brushmaker, potter, maker of straw mats (tatami), woodworker, paper mounter on sliding doors, playing card maker, maker of paper umbrellas, maker of millstones, needlemaker, and, finally, maker of inkstones. Saiga Shokunin Burui, when first published in 1770, became an immediate bestseller. It is a charming combination of poetry, describing the activities of the craftsman as well as depicting each profession. "There was a freshness about his pictures, for his style itself was fresh, and his approach to the theme was new. His artisans are infused with a sense of dignity and pride in their work, and quite often they have personalities of their own. Minimizing the background, Minko gives a close-up view of his craftsmen and their tools in carefully composed scenes. Precise in detail as far as the woodblock medium permitted, yet soft in feeling, the prints reflect a strong interest in his subjects and a sincere feeling of humanity toward them. Although his women are depicted in the idealized manner of the ukiyo-e artists, his men are portrayed more earthily, for the most part, except for the poetic license that Minko sometimes takes with their costumes. His use of color in these illustrations is excellent. Superbly shaded, they are nevertheless bright enough to have great beauty without being so gaudy as to draw attention to themselves. The technique of shading, known as surikomi saishoku, is sometimes said to have been Minko's own invention, and he is supposed to have devised it while attempting to copy the colors in a Chinese picture book. It is interesting to note that he retains the classical literary touch of the 'artisans' poetry contest' pictures by embellishing his prints with commentaries, poems, fragments of myth and legend, and similar odds and ends of writing. According to the preface in his original book, these were the contributions of one of his friends. Quite often they are inaccurate, quaint, and even preposterous, but in their own ingenuous way they add a certain charm to Minko's scenes."-Pomeroy, Charles A. Traditional Crafts of Japan. Illustrated with the Eighteen-century Artisan Prints of Tachibana Minko (N.Y. & Tokyo: Walker/Weatherhill, 1968), p. 4. This first edition is of great rarity, both here and in Japan (WorldCat locates no copy). The 1784 reprint, which contains an introduction by Ota Shokusan, one of the famous writers of the time, is also rare. There was another reprint in 1916. In fine condition. Vol. I has some finger soiling and slight staining. Some of the leaves have skillful paper repairs to the lower margins, including several into the image. One leaf is also repaired along the upper outer corner, touching the image. Minor worming. Vol. II is again a little finger soiled and stained with skillful repairs to the lower margins and gutter to a number of leaves. One folding leaf has a paper repair along the outer edge.
(Inventory #: 6227)
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