Re: album-backing and trimming

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Posted by Pat Collins on May 09, 2002 at 22:42:25:

In Reply to: Re: album-backing and trimming posted by John Fiorillo on May 09, 2002 at 19:23:08:

I think John's comments do add a certain degree of precision here, and mainly a warning that we should not over-generalize our comments to all Japanese prints. I would still say to the questioner that the first thing to look for is size, as a rough INDICATION of whether trimming exists (don't expect every seller to tell you). We are almost always talking about 10 x 15 inch oban GIVE OR TAKE A HALF INCH, as I said, in the kind of prints that we were referring to - not too many 18th century prints, aiban or double oban at eBay, John! The complementary, ESSENTIAL step is to determine what has been lost, and what that means to you and your appreciation of the composition. So I think we are just rehashing the same points in different ways. (I would only add, in reference to Aiban, that many a disreputable dealer has sold trimmed down oban as aiban, so be wary there too.)

In The Japanese Pillar Print, Jacob Pins discusses how pillar prints resulted from cracking in the warped blocks of kakemono-e. I would check his examples on p. 64-67 for examples of this kind of splitting, John. Ingenious publishers, much like some ingenious dealers and their scissors these days, made the damage "disappear" by having the block cut down to a narrow size and making a pillar print.

My only point in introducing this is to say that there are 2 value systems running in appreciation of Japanese prints, one that is purely aesthetic, and one that is contextual and historical. Cropping in an oban as in pillar print would be unacceptable in contextual/historical terms (even if it worked aesthetically) as one who knows the history of prints would recognize this as damage. Yet an early pillar print, though it may be a cropped kakemono-e, is acceptable as being as it was produced and sold in the period.

Coincidentally, I think the aesthetic/historical split also gives form to Theo's struggle with book prints on this chat below. In strict terms of beauty, many book prints are fully satisfying. But to one who knows the context, a book print is a moment torn from a larger, serial composition. It is for that reason that value cannot be created, as someone there claimed, by removing the good prints from a damaged book, since such removed prints will not appear "undamaged" to one who knows the history/context.

: I generally agree with Theo and Pat. However, a few qualifications may be useful:

: (1) Untrimmed print sizes will vary within narrow ranges of their original format - they were cut from larger, standard sheets for use in printmaking (see paper sizes for a brief list of the print formats that could be obtained from 4 different standard sheets). Printmakers did not use precisely sized sheets, and we should not overemphasize the 15" x 10" size, which is only a useful approximation of the commonly encountered ˘ban format. Standard, untrimmed print sizes can vary enough to cause confusion. For example, a small, untrimmed ˘ban is close to a large, untrimmed aiban, and a small chűban is close to a large koban. A print that is now 13" x 8" (approx. 33 x 20 cm) might indeed be a severely trimmed ˘ban (formerly 15" x 10" or approx. 38 x 25 cm), but it could also be a slightly trimmed aiban (13" x 9" or approx, 33 x 23 cm). Sometimes the surviving design will indicate whether the print was originally of one format or another, but sometimes such determination can be difficult, depending on the amount of trimming and the nature of the design. In any case, donĺt necessarily assume a 14" high print was originally an ˘ban. Also, donĺt assume a print that is 15" high is untrimmed, as it might be a trimmed dai-˘ban or ˘-˘ban (large ˘ban).

: (2) One should be concerned not only with the amount of trimming, but also with its relationship to the composition. If design elements are trimmed or removed, the effect can be disturbing, even if the magnitude of trimming is relatively small. Even the removal of "empty space" or background can be detrimental if the balance of the design is adversely affected. Sometimes design elements surviving too close to the edges of trimmed sheets can be out of harmony with the rest of the composition.

: (3) In the 1740s-50s habahiro hashira-e (wide pillar prints) were made from two separate blocks glued together vertically for printing (roughly in the ranges of 70 x 17 cm to 75 x 26 cm). After extended use, the blocks sometimes warped, causing a visible separation or uneven surface planes between the glued blocks (not a crack in a single block). The separation can be seen in a few surviving impressions where the pigments could not be printed along the seam. Publishers frequently reused blocks for long periods and many editions. If the two blocks separated severely, one block was sometimes discarded and the print made from only the remaining block with the most "meaningful" part of the design. Hence we find later edition, tall-narrow hashira-e (approx. 70 x 15 cm, or even in non-standard hashira-e sizes) from a single block. Afterwards, the format was popular enough to justify publishers commissioning artists to design compositions for the single block, tall-narrow hashira-e format.

: (4) Foxing is not just any dark spot on paper. It refers to brown spots caused by one type of mold, a saprophytic fungus (living on dead organic matter). The fungus destroys the sizing in paper and discolors it. Although almost any dark spotting is frequently referred to as foxing in non-scientific condition reports on Japanese prints, some discolorations are spot-staining from different molds or other sources. Analysis under a microscope or under UV radiation may be required to confirm the nature of a mold. One difference is that some molds appear "furry" when viewed by eye, whereas foxing does not. Other spots may be acid burns that have nothing to do with mold or foxing.

: John

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