The famous set of eight oban-sized woodblock prints by KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760 - 1849), entitled Shokoku taki meguri ('Going the Round of the Waterfalls in All Provinces'), was originally published by the Edo publisher, Eijudo, in c. 1832. Of this series highly deceptive early copies exist which for long had not been systematically distinguished from the originals, and had gone undetected until, in 1972, Roger Keyes and Peter Morse published their ground-braking study, Hokusai's Waterfalls and a set of copies(1) .
Our print belongs to such a group of early copies from that series and is entitled:
Shimotsuke Kurokamiyama Kirifuri no taki ('Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province').
Now - what makes these early copies so different from other reproduction prints or facsimiles (here we are not dealing with modern, 20th century reproduction prints which can still be bought in Japan and which are distinctively sold as reproductions, and which due to the type of paper and color pigments used, are more easily recognizable)? - Here are some observations based on the Keyes/Morse studies:
- Sets of the originals and the copies are each printed on uniform types of paper.
- There is a strong similarity of ink and color between originals and copies.
- None of the copies under discussion here have a mark of origin, such as is placed on the verso of modern facsimiles by the best publishers.
- These copies had already been made within a relatively short timespan after the originals were published, - most likely before the Meiji period. - The fact that these copies lack any information indicating their nature as being 'reproductions', and at the same time still carry the artist's signature and seal, allows the conclusion that they were meant to deceive the buyer, and so have to be called FORGERIES or FAKES!
Though scholars and experienced collectors have always been aware of the existence of these copies, and in spite of the fact that the Keyes/Morese study was published almost fifty years ago, copies / forgeries from Hokusai's WATERFALL series can still be found in private collections and museums worldwide, and may to the day show up at auctions, - without being recognized as copies. As a very special phenomenon in the history of the Japanese woodblock print these copies have become instrumental in the process of distinguishing copies from originals, and as such may be a useful addition to one's own print collection as study material, - very much like another type of reproduction prints, the so-called Akashi copies in the field of surimono.
(1) Roger Keyes & Peter Morse, in Oriental Art, vol. XVIII no.2, Summer 1972.