- Museum number
- Object: Kinoe no komatsu 喜能会之故真通 (Pine Seedlings on the First Rat Day (or Old True Sophisticates of the Club of Delightful Skills))
Woodblock print, shunga. Female diver being pleasured by a large and a small octopus.
- Production date
Height: 18.90 centimetres (approx.)
Width: 26.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For extended discussion, see Danielle Talerico, "Interpreting Sexual Imagery in Japanese Prints: A Fresh Approach to Hokusai's Diver and Two Octopi" Impressions: The Journal of the Ukiyo-e Society of America (2001) 23.
Reproduced and discussed in Museum Rietberg, 'Love, Fight, Feast: The Multi-faceted World of Japanese Narrative Art' (2021), no. 99.
This is the shunga image by Hokusai that has always fascinated people the most. Dragging a diving woman into a cleft between two rocks a large octopus is taking its pleasure, using almost all of its eight legs to coil around and play with her arms, legs and nipple. A second, smaller octopus simultaneously ‘kisses’ her on the mouth. For all that this is an image of far-fetched fantasy, with its powerfully volumetric forms and brilliant colouring, it nonetheless gives the vivid sensation that we are direct witnesses of the scene, as the tentacles seem to slither and writhe before our gaze. The diving woman who gives up her body for the octopus to have its way may at first appear ‘lifeless, like a corpse’ (as Edmond de Goncourt wrote; Shunga, cat. 161), but in fact she has all but lost consciousness with the pleasure that the creature is giving her. This is abundantly clear from her arched back, her tight grip on the tentacles, and her long sighs, cries and exclamations that fill the dialogue text surrounding them. Each volume begins with a close-up of an alluring woman, followed by seven double-page illustrations of couples, ending with a close-up of the genitals of the woman shown at the beginning. Nearly all the images present women as passionate, often taking the initiative. The image of an octopus and diving woman, from the middle of volume three, is therefore situated among a wide array of sensual women. The idea for the pairing of octopus and diving woman was not original to Hokusai. Some thirty years earlier the artist Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820) drew a similar combination in his erotic book Yokyoku iro bangumi (Programme of Erotic Noh Plays) of 1781 (Shunga, cat. 90), where the context was the ancient Taishokan tale of the diver woman who stole a jewel from the Dragon King’s Palace at the bottom of the sea. Hokusai’s fellow pupil in the Katsukawa school, Katsukawa Shuncho (worked 1780s–90s), also depicted a diving woman having sex with an octopus among rocks on the shore in Ehon chiyo-dameshi (Erotic Book: Lusts of Many Women on One Thousand Nights) of 1786. Even before that, Suzuki Harunobu (d. 1770) and Katsukawa Shunsho- (d. 1792) had both designed so-called ‘risqué pictures’ (abuna-e) – images that are titillating but not explicit – on the theme. [Ishigami Aki]
When the image was discovered in Europe and people were not able to understand the text, it was interpreted symbolically, and the ecstasy was understood to convey both sublime pleasure and the terror of death. In this vein, Huysmans described it in his Certains of 1889 as ‘the most beautiful and terrifying (effroyable)’ and in 1896 Edmond de Goncourt interpreted the image of the naked body of a woman prostrate with pleasure, as ‘like a corpse’ on seaweed-covered rocks. A copy formerly owned by de Goncourt himself bears his significant handwritten note: ‘Un admirable livre erotique d’Hokousai avec des épreuves d’une harmonie, d’une douceur, d’une tendresse comme jamais il n’en est venu en France’ (‘An admirable erotic book by Hokusai with prints of a harmony, a sweetness, a tenderness such has never been seen in France until now’). Indeed, the print fascinated many writers and end-of-thecentury artists from diverse artistic movements who went on to make their own versions, including Rops, Khnopff, Corrêa, Rassenfosse, Rodin and Picasso. [Ricardo Bru]
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2016 5 Nov-2017 17 Apr, Hobart, Australia, Museum of Old and New Art, On the Origins of Art
2021 9 Sep-5 Dec, Zurich, Museum Rietberg, Love, Fight, Feast: The Multi-faceted World of Japanese Narrative Art
- Registration number