May 10, 2023

Twelve Views of Cherry Blossoms

         This is one of my favorite times of year, when we take our evening walks and it’s still light, and the scents of dozens of various flowering trees and shrubs waft across us.  When I started to look at block prints to celebrate this, it immediately became clear that I would have to focus in a bit - and even so you can see I’ve crowded this post full!  So today I’m looking at some of the different ways Japanese printmakers have portrayed cherry blossoms.  This first grouping includes different views of distant trees with large clouds of blossoms.  The first two are by Hiroshige and in both the areas of blossoms are inked with shaded pink to accentuate the edges of the trees.  In the first there is a scattering of darker pink spots for added detail and texture, while the second actually has myriad blossoms carved out, with their outlines printed in light pink.  The carving of all that detail must have been quite a job!  The third piece in this group is by Toshi Yoshida, and the clouds of pink cherry bloom are given black outlines, and no texture.
        In my second pairing both have the petals of the blossoms carved out and left white.  The difference in approach between the two is that in the first the white carving shows up against the background of the scene, while in the second it is providing detail within a pink cloud.  That makes the flowers look a little sparser on the first, each flower individually carved against the blue of mountainside and sky.  Although the second also has individually carved flowers, they read as if there are many more flowers than just those that are carved.  The pink areas remind me of a textile pattern.
        If we really want to focus on individual flowers, here are a couple of pieces that feature single branches of a flowering cherry tree.  Although they were made about a century apart, they both use black outlines to give precision to the edges of the petals and the lines of the stamens.  In the second one, however, Kiyu has also employed a completely different technique for part of the branch: a grey silhouette.  It’s quite detailed in its contours, but includes no details of color, texture, or outline.
        Next I have two pieces that include a whole cloud of blossoms, but (unlike the pieces in the first grouping) seem to depict each individual flower.  The first is a large print that actually served as a travel poster, advertising the famous cherry trees of the Juho-ji Temple.  It was printed with only three colors (pink, blue, and black), indicating that it was a fairly low-cost production, but the amount of work it took to carve out the black outlines of each flower is astonishing!  I’ll also point out that this piece shows a cherry blossom viewing party, which is an extremely popular subject for Japanese prints, but is usually of far less interest to me than the scenery.  In this case, however, I really enjoy it (probably because even though there are lots of people, they’re still dwarfed by the tree).  The second is about 200 years later, and uses a much simpler technique.  It looks like it involves three blocks: the background inked with a gradation, the branches, and the blossoms, carved as a silhouette and inked with variegated pink.
        That one is actually the most recent of today's pieces, but still looks relatively traditional.  For my final grouping I’ve selected a few depictions of cherry blossoms with a more “modern” look.  One in black and white includes the cherry petals as both positive and negative: carved white within the cloud of the tree, and carved black as they scatter down on the person below.  The charming bird flies over a single blossom and bud, which are simple white shapes against the dark blue background, given just a little detail by simple pink and red shapes representing petal edges and stamens.  Then the final piece is just an enormous mass of pink.  I can’t tell exactly how many blocks are involved, or how many different colors of layered ink, but it’s fairly complex.  The carving is somewhat rough and abstract in shape, but the way the layers build up to give depth and detail is quite amazing.
        I hope you’ve enjoyed this hanami, “flower viewing.”  My own favorite flowering tree is the hawthorn in my back yard, and if it rains at the wrong time all the petals get knocked off before I’ve enjoyed them, which certainly underscores the transient beauty of blossoms.  In these woodblock prints, however, we get to capture and preserve some of that beauty.  No, it isn’t the same as seeing them (and smelling them) in person, but we artists still keep trying!

[Pictures: Yamato hasedera, woodblock print by Hiroshige, 1859 (Image from Library of Congress);

Yoshitsune’s Cherry Tree and the Shrine of Noriyori, woodblock print by Hiroshige, 1855 (Image from MFA Boston);

Sankei-en, woodblock print by Toshi Yoshida, 1935 (Image from Honolulu Museum of Art);

Cherry Blossoms at Tachibo Village, woodblock print by Tokuriki Tomikichiro, 1950s (Image from MFA Boston);

Niwa no hanami, woodblock print by Eishi, between 1788-91 (Image from Library of Congress);

Cherry Blossoms, woodblock print by Kawarazaki Shodo, c. 1950s (Image from Panteek);

Cherry Blossoms in Moonlight, woodblock print by Ichikawa Kiyu, mid 1800’s (Image from MFA Boston);

Cherry-blossom Viewing Party at Juho-ji Temple, woodblock print by Miki Tangetsu, c 1804-18 (Image from MFA Boston);

Hanging Cherry Tree, woodblock print by Namiki Hajime, 2007 (Image from;

The Best Blooming Time, woodblock print by Kozaki Kan, c. 1980’s (Image from;

A Bird Flying Over A Cherry Tree Blossom, woodblock print by Azechi Umetaro, 20th century  (Image from;

The Fragrant Red Cherry, woodblock print by Hao Boyi, 1995 (Image from]


Donna B. McNicol said...

I absolutely adore Japanese prints...these are gorgeous.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Glad to share, Donna, and thanks for stopping by!

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Sakura are wonderful trees, and you found some prints that bring across the "spirit of the sakura". Thank you.