About woodblock print recuts

A print made from recut blocks is a true woodblock print, but is not made from the original blocks; new ones have been cut by other woodblock cutters since the original print was issued.  Popular and famous prints have been issues in recut editions over the years, and Hiroshige is a good example of an artist whose wonderful views have been popular since they were first published.  The original blocks were probably worn out during his life time from use on many editions of his work, and so there are fairly old recut editions, as well as absolutely new modern ones sold at Japanese handicraft shops today.  In some cases woodblock artists destroyed or defaced the original blocks after a limited edition was printed.

A recut woodblock print might be thought of as comparable to an oil painting copied by subsequent artists, which are genuine oil paintings, but by later artists of varying skill levels, some of whom may have been famous in their own right.  But it isn't quite the same because woodblock artists generally draw or paint the original image, which is then carved into a set of blocks by a professional woodblock cutter, one for each color and one for the outlines, and so in a sense there was never a really "original" woodblock as there is an original painting by a certain artist, because the woodblock print artist in virtually every case left the carving of the blocks to those specialists.

Collectors of course want woodblock prints from the original blocks and if possible the original edition.  For those who enjoy woodblock prints for the aesthetics rather than for their value as collectors' items, the important points for consideration with recuts is the level of skill of the woodblock cutters and the quality of the printing.  As noted on the site, our Hiroshige recuts are fairly old ones, and they're very well done, with good colors and good printing.  Needless to say there are many of mediocre or worse quality.  We are fortunate in having acquired some of these recuts from a man who was born in the first decades of the 20th century and grew up in Kobe in a missionary family, and whose mother bought the prints in Kyoto at a famous shop which has been operating for centuries.  In this case we have more provenance than is usually available for recut prints.

Recuts can be better understood in the context of woodblock print production in general, and there is discussion of this at about woodblock prints.

The great majority of lovers of Japanese art either can't or don't want to pay for collectors' prints, especially since most of the aspects which give value to these prints have little if anything to do with their aesthetics, but with edition, printer, seals printed or affixed, and such peripheral matters.  Recuts are perfect for those who want to enjoy the image of a woodblock print but don't want simply a reproduction, made with modern printing methods, such as are available through museums holding the original prints.  Although older recuts become more expensive as time goes by, they are an affordable way to have a woodblock print that is real in its own way. 

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