Re: Speaking of Original and Reproduction......Hi Theo

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Posted by John Fiorillo on May 25, 2002 at 08:13:02:

In Reply to: Re: Speaking of Original and Reproduction......Hi Theo posted by Andy on May 25, 2002 at 02:38:08:


No one can quantify the differences required to prove that an impression is a reproduction. This is done on a case-by-case basis. Any attempt to respond to your questions should be qualified, as there can be exceptions to the rule, and no quick answer is available when trying to codify principles for authenticating prints. Knowledge, experience, and a good eye are required.

Nevertheless, authentication is not a hermetic science for only the privileged few. Any person who can perceive and assess detail and is willing to put the time into studying ukiyo-e should be capable of making informed judgments.

Prints were hand-made objects, so very slight variations among impressions from the original blocks did indeed occur. In addition, blocks wore out, printers used different densities of pigments, papers had different amounts of sizing (dôsa), publishers sometimes employed alternate printers with different skill levels or style preferences to produce later editions off the same blocks, and so on.

Yet when you speak of the differences in lines from original blocks, such differences should be minimal. I would state a guiding principle as follows:

*** For both impressions to be originals, the line differences between them must be consistent with the physical possibilities of printing from the same lines that have been cut in relief into the original blocks. ***

In other words, a finding that the differences are "small" is not, in itself, proof of the likelihood that the impression is an original. It is the nature of the difference that offers the clue for authentication. While the density or uniformity of lines might vary as the blocks wore out, in ALL cases the angle, direction, or placement of lines would remain the same if printed from the original blocks. The endings of lines might trail off "sooner" (i.e., slightly shorter line-length), or loops might fill in or lose their definition in worn impressions, but this effect should be minimal and should not affect every line equally in the design. Line breaks are commonly encountered and are indicators of impressions that suffered wear or damage, but are not necessarily good signs of authenticity, as both original and recut blocks can suffer damage or wear.

Typically, the older the block, the weaker the line, but I've seen late impressions with darker lines of greater "depth" when produced by a printer who was trying to extract every bit of "strength" from worn-out woodblocks. In these cases I assume there was some combination of denser colorants, greater pressure exerted during printing, multiple printings of the same colorant, or less dôsa in the paper. I've also seen early impressions of such fineness that, at first glance, one might wonder whether the blocks were already showing wear, until it became obvious the fineness of printing was uniform and intentional. Facial lines, even in unworn impressions, can be very fine.

The missing "dots" in patterns (such as trees and rocks) that you mention can signal a recut color block, as these patterns were often made without keyblock outlines. The hand-inking of the color blocks would sometimes produce slightly different shapes here and there. A missing shape or two could also indicate a recut block, though not always. If the entire pattern is different, you would have a recut block. There are cases in which the keyblocks were original and unchanged, but the color blocks were altered or replaced - these are sometimes variant states considered genuine lifetime impressions. However, if you see both slight differences in keyblock lines plus changes in color block patterns, you would typically have a recut design.

It is not surprising that, as you say, "Overall though, the similarities far outweighed the differences ...". Copies can be made from skillful tracings and recuts of the originals, so everything is expected to look similar. The devil is in the fine details.

One is frequently at a serious disadvantage when attempting authentication without the actual prints in hand. Comparisons between an internet scan and a book illustration are always more difficult, especially if either of the illustrations is small or has poor resolution. What you have are simulations that are subject to the limitations of the media in which they are reproduced. "Virtual-reality" jpegs and gifs on the internet and pictures in books lack important qualities of actual prints, such as depth of color; the actual pigment color (faded or otherwise); the hue, texture, and thickness of the paper; the size of the sheet (trimmed or not); and the condition.

None of this can be quantified or formulated to apply to all prints in all instances.


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