by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980)
Fans of ukiyo-e, also known as ‘floating-world’ in the West, might want to drop by to view Hiroshige: A Shoal of Fishes (1980). This unique book is currently on display near the John A. and Carol O. Moran Lecture Hall in conjunction with our Winter Read, which is the novella by Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It (1976).
The Japanese artist Ando Hiroshige lived during the late Edo period, which was marked by a rich artistic and cultural climate as well as increased pressure for isolation from Western influences. Originally published in two parts in 1832 and 1833, The Shoals was crafted in cooperation with Kyokashi, a guild of poets who wrote short light verses to accompany the prints.
Hiroshege, considered one of the masters of wood-block printing, was known for his horizontal landscapes featuring hundreds of slice-of-life depictions from his travels throughout Japan. While others focused on more theatrical and erotic imagery, Hiroshige explored themes of rural life and natural splendor. The Shoal of Fishes is composed of 20 double panels, each featuring an underwater scene depicting several unique species of fish or sea creature.
This publication is a reprint by The Metropolitan Museum of Art published in 1980 and constructed in an accordion-style format that unfolds to nearly 25 feet when fully extended. The Met had the poetry translated from Japanese, which we share in part here:
On rocks and sand and rinsing waves
the jewel, abalone, polishes itself
The kimono lining comes out
now that spring is here
and the sayori fish is cleaned for
a springtime feast
I would love to be transformed
into a creature thin enough
to follow the abalone
into the cracks of rocks
A Shoal of Fish illustrates how Hiroshige’s use of color and perspective and his particularly advanced use of gradient in his wood-block works set him apart from other ukiyo-e artists of his time. Come by to see how this particularly beautiful book complements his more famous work such as One Hundred Famous View of Edo (2005), which is a circulating book that you can check out.