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Archive: Baien (梅園)

Kiseru, tabako-ire, and shibori-patterned cloth; three kyôka written above
Baien (梅園)
Artist's seals: Bai (梅) and en (園)
Tani Seikô (who cut the blocks and printed the surimono)
Circa 1/1827
(H x W)
Shikishiban surimono
21.0 x 18.0 cm
Excellent (with metallics, including very subtle application in two places on tobacco pouch; embossing; over-printing on pipe)
Very good color and good condition (unbacked; natural "chain lines" of the paper visible—these are not folds; very slight wear at edges; small-sized Japanese characters for the number "17" lightly brushed in red ink on verso)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: BAI01 


Baien (梅園), who was active in the 1820s, appears to have been the haigô (art name: 俳号) of Ki (or Kiku) no Tsukunari, a kyôka (playful verse: 狂歌) poet.

Tani Seikô was one of the extraordinary figures in the history of ukiyo-e block cutting and printmaking. Although he was born, trained, and worked during the first part of his career in Edo, he moved to Osaka in 1819, spending most of his remaining time in that city thereafter. Seikô's body of work is widely admired for its remarkable craftsmanship. He signed or sealed most of his work during the period 1822-1831, which was unusual for block cutters and printers, and a sign of his exalted status as an artisan. He worked with many kyôka poets in Osaka, especially Tsurunoya (Ki no Osamaru; personal name Asadaya Sôbei; c. 1751-c.1839) and members of his Tsuru-ren (crane poetry group), who commissioned and exchanged the majority of his prints. Seikô's printmaking seems to have ended in 1831, but it is not known whether this was due to retirement or death.


Still lifes such as this were among the more popular subjects in surimono. Here we see a large kiseru (smoking pipe: 烟管), which during the Temmei era (I/24/1781 - I/25/1789: 天明) became one of the most important items for the display of taste and sophistication among the chônin (townsmen: 町人). The tabako-ire (tobacco container: 煙草入), a pouch for carrying loose tobacco, was another important accessory for the man about town. Pouches were made of silks (often embroidered), printed fabrics or papers, small carved boxes, and even imported leathers, and were attached to strings or chains suspended from netsuke (lit., "attached root" or small carved sculptures: 根付), which were strung over the obi (waist sash: 帯) used to close the kimono. The shapes and styles of tabako-ire were various, from the simple to the ornate, and sumptuary edicts occasionally targeted the more elaborate designs, as when gold or silver clasps were forbidden for being too ostentacious. One of the most famous tobacco pouch shops was owned by the writer and printmaker Santô Kyôden (1761-1816; 山東京伝). The red cloth is decorated with the popular asanoha (hemp leaf: 麻の葉) pattern, frequently made with the hitta kanoko (bound dots: 匹田鹿の子) technique, one of the tie-dyed or shaped-resist methods in which cloth is folded, crumpled, stitched, knotted, plaited, twisted, folded and clamped between boards, wound around or pushed along cores, or "capped" (with inserted shapes) into patterns to create a multitude of shaped-resisted designs.

The block cutter and printer of Baien's privately issued shikishiban surimono (square print: 色紙判) is identified by the seal at the lower left reading Tani Seikô (谷清好). It hardly needs saying that surimono produced by Seikô are eagerly sought after by collectors and curators.

References: Andon 72/73 (2002), Keyes, pp. 12-26