The shunga (春画) woodblock print “Octopus and Shell Diver” (蛸と海女), better known as “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, is taken from the third volume of Kinoe no Komatsu (喜能会之故真通), the most famous work in the corpus of erotic prints by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎), and depicts a woman abandoned in the ecstasy of an embrace with a pair of octopuses. This composition, which the scholar Francesco Morena defines, with an extremely effective synthesis, “engaging and shocking”, caused in the Western world a considerable stir.
In 1896 Edmond de Goncourt described it as “a frightful image”. In 1889, instead, Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote: «The most beautiful Japanese print I know is terrifying […]. The almost superhuman expression of anguish and pain which convulses the long Pierrot-like figure, with her aquiline nose, and the hysterical joy simultaneously conveyed by her forehead and her eyes closed as though in death, are admirable» (cf. Francesco Morena, Hokusai, 2007 Giunti Editore, pp. 57-58).
The work on Japanese washi paper (和紙), originally published in 1814, is presented here in a fine reprint made, in December 2018, by the engraver and printer Shimoi Yuuya (下井雄也).