Kotondo, Torii
Of all the early Showa era bijin-ga artists, prints by Torii Kotondo are always certain to take my breath away. Kotondo was born in Tokyo's Nihonbashi with the name Saito Akira. At the age of 15 he was adopted into the Torii family by Torii Kiyotada (Torii VII) and given the name Kotondo. In the Taisho era he studied under Kobori Tomone and the bijin-ga artist Kaburagi Kiyokata. In 1925 he began exhibiting bijin-ga paintings at Inten, and then designed almost all his woodblock bijin-ga prints from 1927 to 1933, first via the publisher Sakai and Kawaguchi, and later via Ikeda. In 1941 he became Torii VIII (Kiyotada V) after his adoptive father's death. He is known to have published only 22 large-format bijin-ga woodblock prints, all of which are exceptionally rare and expensive. He also published a small koban-sized bijin-ga for the magazine Ukiyo-e Kai (see an example below)

Sakai and Kawaguchi published two limited-edition sets -- an export edition of 200 prints, and for at least five scenes (Make-up, Long Undergarment, Rain, Snow, and Vapour) a domestic edition of 300 prints issued as a series called "Showa Fuzoku Bijin-shu" (A Collection of Beauties - Customs and Manners of the Showa-Era). See the original advertisement for this series by the publisher Sakai Kokodo (one of the partners of Sakai-Kawaguchi) at the lower right, and an enlargement here. I consider these two editions to be "first editions" as they were probably printed at or around the same time. Examples of the 300-print domestic edition are actually vary rare, so I expect either full editions were not published, or Kawaguchi sold the stock with Kawaguchi seals (rather than Sakai/Kawaguchi seals). I have at least one example from the domestic edition here. Note the publisher seals are those of Sakai and Kawaguchi, not Kawaguchi.

Later, Kawaguchi released a further edition of 300 or 350 prints (depending on the scene) for most scenes.

A total of twelve Ikeda-published scenes were produced and are exceedingly rare, as only a single limited-edition set of 100 prints was published, after which the keyblock was destroyed. As proof of a single edition an impression of the destroyed keyblock was included with each print sold.

Kotondo's first scene via Ikeda, Morning Hair, is the most famous and sought-after print by Kotondo due to its rarity and notoriety. After pulling only approximately 70 prints from the blocks, Ikeda's premises were visited by the police. According to Ikeda's brother, the police were upset at the highly sexually suggestive image of a woman rising from her sleep in the morning with her hair-comb still placed beside her (yes, the one in the foreground of the print). Ikeda was told to forfeit all remaining unsold stock and the woodblocks to the local constabulary. Ikeda was so incensed he defaced all the remaining prints and gouged the woodblocks before forfeiting them. It is unknown exactly how many prints made it into the hands of collectors, but my research suggests approximately 30.

It is possible to see pre-war strikes of Kawaguchi and Ikeda prints without edition numbers, although these are also rare and may be artist or publisher proofs, etc. See some examples below. Because of this collectors need to be cautious when purchasing Kotondo first editions; some sellers fail to mention the fact that their print has no edition number, and many buyers can't read Japanese text so they are none-the-wiser.

All of the prints you see below are pre-war strikes, not 1980's recarved later editions.

A note to fellow Kotondo collectors: if you have in your possession any pre-war strikes of Kotondo's scenes I would be most grateful to receive large clear images of the front and verso, including in-focus close-ups of any edition notes or seals on the verso. The images will be used to help my research into better quantifying the various editions for each scene.


 

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Applying Powder (variant design) - 化粧
Date: 1929

Pre-war First Edition Woodblock Prints Published By Ikeda 10


 

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Tipsy - ほろ酔
Date: 1932

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Misty Spring - おぼろ春
Date: 1932 April

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: In a Light Summer Kimono with Irises - 菖蒲ゆかた
Date: 1932

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Hair Combing - 髪梳き
Date: 1932

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: After the Bath (Yugaeri) - 湯帰り
Date: 1932 May

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: A Nap (Utatane) - うたっ寝
Date: 1933 February

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Peony Snowflakes - 牡丹雪
Date: 1933

Pre-war First and Later Edition Woodblock Prints Published By Sakai & Kawagichi 20


 

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Long Undergarment (Colour state 1) - 長襦袢
Date: 1929 July

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Sash - 帯
Date: 1929 October

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Vapour- Yuge - 湯ゲ
Date: 1929 October

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Combing Hair - 髪梳き
Date: 1929 October

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Rain - 雨
Date: 1929 October

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Rain - 雨
Date: 1929 October

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Snow - 雪
Date: 1929, October

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Fragrance of the Hot Spring - 湯の香
Date: 1930 Summer

Other Woodblock Prints 30


 

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Early Summer Fine Weather - 五月晴
Date: 1936 May

Watercolours, scrolls, and other paintings 30


 

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Daruma Doll Game
Date: 1930s

Artist: Kotondo, Torii (1900-1976) - 鳥居言人
Title: Pounding Silk
Date: 1930s

How to determine correctly editioned prints

Ikeda-published Kotondo prints were published in a single small edition size of only 100 prints, after which the keyblock was destroyed. These prints were editioned using a printed seal on the verso into which the edition number was hand-written in black sumi ink. Ikeda used a total of two edition seal styles (see image below). The first three scenes had their titles printed on a verso paper tag that included the edition number. The other nine scenes had their titles' printed on the front in the bottom margin, and the publisher and edition details were stamped on the verso using a seal (not a paper tag), with the edition number hand-written in black sumi ink. When purchasing Ikeda-published pre-war originals one needs to be careful that the print is correctly editioned, because, unfortunately, there are strikes in the market that contain the edition seal with blank numbering. The image below shows the edition seals of three scenes that are correctly hand-editioned (edition #50, 52, and 45 from scenes 2, 8, and 9), along with another three prints (bottom images) that contain the edition seal but no hand-written edition number. Notice the large blank area where the edition number would normally be written.

Example verso edition seals for Ikeda-published Kotondo prints

Limited edition seal examples for Ikeda prints

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