Amid green leaves are six snow covered peony flowers. To the right of the image, a series of vertically written Kanji spell out a corresponding Haiku poem.
Camellias in Snow (2024)

Camellias in Snow, with Corresponding Poem by Masaoka Shiki

Native to most parts of Japan, the camellia (tsubaki) is among the more popular Japanese flowers. An evergreen which usually begins to flower in January, it is known to some as the rose of winter. When they fall from the trees, known as ochitsubaki (落ち椿), they do so intact rather than shedding petals, thus carpeting the ground in blossoms. It is of little surprise that fallen camellias have long been portrayed in Japanese poetry and literature.

As nature was typically incorporated into poems, it also featured in the corresponding artwork. The poets of Japan would often have their work appear in privately commissioned woodblock prints, known as Surimono (printed thing). These were routinely commissioned by poetry societies and produced in small numbers to be given as personal gifts. This afforded a way for nascent techniques and artistic ideas to be tested. The absence of commercial considerations also encouraged the use of high end printing materials, resulting in what might now be called deluxe editions.

Though Woodblock printing continued, its role in mass printing and publishing declined after the Meiji Restoration (1868). This reestablished practical imperial governance, which in turn precipitated increased trade and rapid industrialisation. What is more, this ended Japan’s policy of sakoku (locked country), during which Japanese commoners were not permitted to leave, and foreigners were almost entirely prohibited.

The Haikus of Shiki

Masaoka Shiki was a poet of the Meiji era and is considered among the great masters of Haiku. After moving to Tokyo he worked with Nippon Newspaper and edited a Haiku magazine called Hototogisu (Cuckoo). In his poems he particularly favoured realistic observations of nature, and advocated for innovations that would revitalise the writing of haiku. One might argue that his efforts helped to ensure the genre’s continuation at a time when Japanese society was being exposed to western artistic culture.

Camellias in Snow (2024) is part of an ongoing exploration of Japanese visual culture. The featured poem is by Shiki:
椿かな見れば散るものかな

Looking at camellias,
one sees they must fall.

Giclée printed onto archival quality 308gsm Hahnemule paper, this unique art-print is available framed. Drop an email if interested.

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