Fan-Shaped Bird and Flower Prints from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Collection
Circular fan-shaped prints (uchiwa-e) are relatively rare today due to their intended use as decorative designs to be pasted onto fan frames. A fan shop owner would stock uchiwa-e and allow customers to choose the print to be made into a fan. Some fanshaped prints, such as the Kingfisher and Pink Camellias or Pheasant in Snow by Hiroshige (1797-1858), actually have the ribbed markings where the print had once been pasted to the fan frame. The Museum is fortunate to have fine examples of this genre from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Collection, as well as beautiful figure prints--gifts to the Museum from Mrs. Gustav Radeke, Isaac C. Bates, Marshall H. Gould and George P. Metcalf, to illustrate circular and folding fans in use.
Uchiwa, unlike folding fans such as those pictured in Woman With Puppet or Still Life With Fan by Shinsai (ca. 1764-1820) which go back to the elegant imperial culture of ancient times, are more firmly rooted in Edo period (1603-1868) culture. Although the folding fan never diminishes in popularity or use through the centuries, the use of uchiwa suddenly appears in countless Edo period images of courtesans and domestic scenes of the pleasure quarters and their environs. The simple, familiar shape of the uchiwa instantly conjures up vivid impressions of summer heat and noisy festivals, domestic activities ranging from fanning cooking fires to lounging on verandas, and coy courtesans or beautiful women out for a lazy stroll. In the stunning triptych from the series Twelve Months at Home, Kunisada (1786-1865) captures the very essence of the summer season by depicting a woman at center who holds a fan and sits before a tray laden with juicy chunks of sliced watermelon.
There is yet another expressive aspect of the uchiwa-e print. The flower and bird designs, in particular, are similar in effect to motifs which adorn folding fans, fine ceramics or lacquerware in that they attain a fine balance between decorative function and poetic meaning. Some fans, such as Rising Sun and Takasago Pine or Cormorant Fishing on Nagara River by Shunzan (ca. 1782-1798) make unmistakable references to classical poetry. Indeed, the subject-matter of both fans by Shunzan is essentially the poetic tradition. Yet, even in fan-shaped prints of bird and flower subjects which may, on the surface, appear decorative and straightforward in subject-matter, there is frequently a poetic association, as well, that links the simple motif to a complexity of emotions found in famous poems of love and longing. The fan print of Morning Glories by Hiroshige is perhaps the most stunning example on view of a beautiful decorative design that also refers to Japan's tradition of classical poetry.