Japanese Woodblock Print

Utagawa Hiroshige | Tobiuo and Ishimochi and Lily | From a Series Known as the Large Fish | 1840



Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 13-3/4” x 9-1/4” Overall dimensions

This wonderful woodblock print is entitled: Tobiuo and Ishimochi and Lily with no publisher’s mark was published by Maruya Jinpachi (Marujin). 

This flying fish, (Tobiuo), and White Croaker (Ishimoshi) is pictured with a single Lily surrounded by a poem. Its creation date is from 1840-1842, signed: Hiroshige ga, and as the earliest edition has the artist’s seal, and two round seals with the names of the two fish. From the second series of fish published by Yamasho. On the top right is the poem for May - Flower Lily translated as follows:

It is almost summer.
Women divers are at work in the bay;
The flying fish leap;
the cuckoo sings.
As they splash to the surface
the women call out in voices like bird song.

The print captures the motion of trout swimming up the river and also incorporated into the flying fish is what is referred to as the magical Prussian blue that is in many of his favorite fish and water scenes.

Antique Condition: Good and commensurate with age, (1800s), and consistent with age enhance the ‘Antique’ qualities of the piece, giving it a desirable second chance in expanding one’s collection. “As is”, and retains the original craft/workmanship and fully intact. No fading including the Prussian blue incorporated into the piece. Four minor cuts, one below the head of the flying fish and two in the center above his dorsal fin and one on the upper right edge and one small cut out in the backing which can be repaired, (see image). The piece is laid down on the top corners, since it was originally in a book, and explained below, which is shown around the print in the photographs. We consulted with a paper conservator at the winter Portland Art Museum print exhibition and sale in which he told us that Japanese woodblock prints can be restore but it would require a person with specialized training and practice. It is estimated that it would cost approximately $250-400 to repair the conditions noted, but the cost needs to be confirmed by a print restoration professional. The fact that this is an Original Hiroshige, the value of pieces in excellent condition, and sold at auction houses, (averaging $8,000-15,000), and clearly justify the expense and expertise of a professional conservator.

NOTE: Prints of animals, fish, and plants were relatively rare in Hiroshige’s catalog:  in his 40-year art career, he designed over 10,000 single-sheet prints and several hundred book illustrations, with only around 500 having an animal or plant as the subject.

Research, (Metropolitan Museum of Art), tells us that Hiroshige made around twenty fish prints in the 1830s. The first batch of ten was made for the Kyokashi Poetry Guild to compliment their writer's poems, (During the design and printing process the poets gave their poems to the woodblock carver, who added the lettering to a block so it would appear on the final print). These prints were said to be made for poets or fans of poetry because they each contain one or more poems identified in the book Hiroshige: A Shoal of Fishes, which have translations of the poem on the print).