Aquatic Life in Japanese Art of the Late Edo Period|
Natural life became an important subject of Japanese woodblock prints during the eighteenth century, when realistic renderings of plants, birds, animals, and aquatic life from European and Chinese sources were introduced to Japan through limited trade restricted to the port of Nagasaki. Japanese artists relied on circulating books and hand copies to study detailed nature drawing. Their work reflects different degrees of knowledge of the actual animals, but a few artists may have studied actual specimens.
Shown in this room are full-color printed books illustrating varieties of fishes, published in 1778 and 1802 respectively. In the 1830s, colorful single-sheet woodblock prints depicting nature subjects gained wide-spread popularity in urban Japan. Landscape series such as Katsushika Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and Utagawa Hiroshige's Fifty-three Stations along the Tokaido revitalized public demand for prints of new subjects. During the same period, both Hiroshige and Hokusai also created striking, close-up images of birds, flowers, and other natural subjects. Their designs fueled a boom in commercial publication of nature prints, which was supported by many other artists.
Featured in this gallery are a full set of twenty prints of fish with accompanying poems by Hiroshige and other works by Hokusai and his followers. They illustrate not only the importance of aquatic life among the Japanese, but also their appreciation of the beauty in glistening fishes brought forth from their bountiful waters.