The "Large Fish" Prints by Utagawa Hiroshige|
At the peak of his artist career, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) designed two groups of prints in the full-sheen oban format depicting a wide variety of fishes and crustaceans. In all but two images, in which fish are swimming in water, Hiroshige presented the fish and crustaceans as still-life images accompanied by seasonal plants. Original verses composed for these prints by prominent contemporary poets accompany each image. Both the images and the poems contain references to the seasonal abundance of aquatic delicacies in Japanese cuisine. The inspiration for producing these large-scale, full-color designs is likely to have been two full-color woodblock printed books exhibited in the case at the center of this room.
Although untitled, Hiroshige's twenty designs are known collectively as the "Large Fish" prints. They were published in two series -- in 1832-34 by Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudo) and in 1840-42 by Yamada Shojiro (Yamasho). The earlier group of designs was privately commissioned as a luxury limited edition, probably by a poetry circle, and mounted as an album. When commercial printings were released to the market, the popularity of the "Large Fish" prints created a huge demand that was met by reprintings, often with slight variations, and, in the Meiji period, by copies printed from new blocks.