Japanese Woodblock Print

Utagawa Hiroshige Woodblock Titled: Yellowtail, Blowfish, and Plum Blossoms | Fugu and Inada Fish From The Series Uozukushi | 1840



Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 13-3/4” x 9-1/2”

This woodblock is of an Inada, yellowtail or amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata) and fugu, blowfish or puffer, (Fugu pardalis), together with plum blossom branch.  From the second series of ten fish prints published by Yamasho (Yamadoya Shobei). It’s creation date is from 1830-1842, signed: Hiroshige hitsu, No seals.

On the top left is the poem for February by Suzugaki, for which both the Fish and Plum Blossom are appropriate to early spring and translated as follows:

The warm spray that blows off
the fast moving water
will force the bloom of the early-
picked plum branch

The print captures the motion of fish swimming up the river and also incorporated into the Yellowtail 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 tinted 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. 

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 beginning in the late 1830s.The first batch of ten were made for the Kyokashi Poetry Guild to compliment their writers 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).