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Shinagawa Oki no Kujira Takanawa yori Mita Zu [Seeing the whale in Shinagawa Bay at Takanawa]

Major collection: Hart Nautical
Named collection: Allan Forbes Collection
Object type: print
Maker: Katsukawa Shuntei
Place made: Japan
Date made: 1798
Materials: silboard; ink; paper
Measurements: 18 1/4 in x 33 3/4 in; 15 1/4 in x 30 3/4 in
Nomenclature: whaling scenes
Classification: whales

In 1789 (the tenth year of Kansei), the appearance of whales in Shinagawa Bay caused a sensation in Japan drawing massive crowds from all over Japan. Shuntei, who made this print contemporaneously to this spectacle, focuses on the popular and social aspects of the event, featuring the courtesans of the House of Yamakuchi (Yamakuchiya), depicted here as pedestrians and onlookers on the strand, passengers in boats, and patrons of the oyasumi dokoro refreshment pavilion in the third panel in the foreground. Men and women gather into small boats to get up close to view the cow (female whale) and calf, which are unaccountable details made by the artist. Shuntei captures the lively spirit of community interest and participation by celebrating the infusion of an extraordinary, even portentous event, into the everyday lives of ordinary people. Furthermore, the print is an example of the stylization of the humpback whale as an oversized, bumpy black fish that was standardized by artists' rendering of the Shinagawa Whale of 1798. Collective and profuse depictions of the Shinagawa or Kansei whale helped define the vocabulary of whale iconography for the rest of the classic ukiyo-e era in the early twentieth century.