For information or questions mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kuniyoshi's 47 Ronin colours and fading
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colorants produced a certain range of hues, translucency, and texture that an experienced eye can discern. There is generally a transparency and richness that is due to absorption of colorants deep into the paper matrix, distinguishing many (though not all) original colors from those found in copies.
The fading rates of colorants in Japanese prints are not well known, and not all pigments found on Japanese prints have been identified, and very few have been tested in a standardized manner. Various factors affect the rates of fading, among them the:
- binder used to disperse and control the colorant, such as rice starch paste
- concentration of the colorant the mixtures of colorants, if any
- type of paper, including the sizing, if any, used to control absorption of the colorants
- relative humidity of the environment
- the spectral range of light radiation
- intensity of illumination
Red - (probably made with beni or Carthamus tinctorius, a safflower) loses its intensity and shifts to a medium orange-red. Countless surviving prints show altered shades of red from its original saturated state. It is certainly true that many shades of unfaded red colorants are possible, and indeed ukiyo-e printmakers purposely varied the hues and their saturation for visual effect. Nevertheless, the presence of the orange-red, pale red or rose is more often than not a sign of fading.
Yellow - the organic yellow loses its intensity and shifts to a pale beige.
Purple - (possibly made from an aniline dye) can turn to shades of grayish blue. Organic purple colorants, however, usually a mixture of blue and red fade into reddish-brown, then light brown, tans, or buffs as they become more faded.
Blue - colorants made from the dayflower (aigami) have poor lightfastness, and fade into bluish grey and then grey as they become more faded. Note however, that the relatively colorfast Prussian blue, bero-ai remains unfaded, as does Sumi (black and gray pigment).
Green - probably a colorant made from a mixture of yellow and blue, can alter to favour the blue colorant used in the mixture. The shift from a medium green to the bluish green is frequently encountered in nineteenth-century ukiyo-e prints (presumably the yellow colorant in the mixture suffers a photochemical alteration faster than does the blue, which was not the same blue used in earlier ukiyo-e, such as the fugitive aigami, dayflower, or ai, indigo).
An example of common fading noticed in the series from published reference prints:
(A). Timothy Clark's- Kuniyoshi
(B). D Weinberg's - Faithful Samurai
(C). R Shaap's - Heros and Ghosts
Let's have a look at the different degrees of fading on these print 1.27 examples. (A) is from the Arthur R Miller collection at the British museum. It is the print least affected by fading. The purples (circled in purple) on the pants and sash have faded (approaching a purple brown) but not to the degree of (C), in which the purple is now a very light tan/buff. You will notice that the top of the sash on the back and under the arm in prints (A, B) are faded significantly more than the front of the sash around the waist. I think the accelerated fading on these areas may have something to do with the metallic powder applied onto the print to imitate the ash from the brazier (habachi).
The pants in print (A) more or less retain their green and blue colours, were as (B), from Weinberg's own collection, are starting to appear blue with grey /green stripes, and (C), from the collection of Arthur Salcher, are now blue (a light blue pattern with the green stripes now a darker shade of blue).
You will notice that the red colour in the caratouche and kiri seal of the prints of this series generally seem to fade slower than the reds used for the sword saya (scabbards) in a number of prints. I don't think that it actually is fading slower but I do think the the scabbards have had less colourant applied and therefore appear more faded. Example (B) shows this, the kiri seal is relatively unfaded (as is the caratouch, though not displayed here) yet the scabbards of the swords are quite faded.
The organic yellow of the habachi is more or less totally faded in print (C) which aligns to the degree of fading generally of this print. By default this leaves a more pronounced orange toning to the brazier.
The blacks in these prints do not fade noticeably. The only prints I have seen in which the blacks appear inconsistent or faded in spots are examples were the printing and colour registration was less than good to begin with (bad late editions and reprints).
Some examples of the original fugitive purple colourant are shown below. These are from a variety of prints from the same time period, (late 1840's) and appear to be mostly unfaded.
Individual prints are compared in more detail and are linked to from the 47 Ronin comparison page.