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Archive: Obata Chiura (小圃千浦)

Goldfish (kingyo, 金魚)
Chiura Obata (in English)
Artist Seal: Chiura (千浦)
NA (watercolor)
c. 1930s
(H x W)
Double ôban
39.2 x 52.3 cm
NA (watercolor, sumi and colors on paper)
Excellent color, unbacked;  very faint toning along upper edge
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: OBT08


Obata Chiura (小圃千浦, November 18, 1885 - October 6, 1975) was born Obata Zoroku in Okayama, Japan and grew up in Sendai. He emigrated to California in 1903, where he pursued and taught painting and printmaking, leaving behind a highly distinctive and important body of work. His biography is summarized at our Obata Biography page.


Goldfish (Carassius auratus, freshwater fish; in Japanese, kingyo, 金魚) were first raised in China by selectively breeding Prussian carp for coloration (mutations). They were introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century; cultivation of varities increased throughout the Edo period. As a result, keeping kingyo in bowls or aquaria has long been a popular pastime in Japan (as it is today around much of the world). Kingyo should be distinguished from the Japanese koi (carp: 鯉), also called nishikigoi (lit., "brocaded carp": 錦鯉), which are are domesticated common carp, a coldwater fish.

Although many of Obata's paintings and watercolors feature natural realism, he was more interested in capturing kiin seidô ("living moment": 気韻生動), i.e., the essential nature of a scene. This quality of observation and perceptiveness was transmitted through the artist's intuitive connection with the spirit of the subject. Kiin seidô is evident in Obata's painting through the interplay of wet and dry brush strokes, and simplified forms and empty space — enhanced with pale colors. The energy of Obata's brushwork is an expression of living natural beauty.

Obata's watercolor is a fine example of decorative naturalism expressed through his "living moment" idiom. The sweeping washes of blue watercolor create movement and animate the composition. An adult kingyo and two young offspring, set along steep diagonals, swim past undulating water-plants below. The vivid reds of the fan-tailed fish belie a feeling of serenity that one often experiences while observing kingyo.


  • Janice Driesbach and Susan Landauer: Obata's Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from His Trip to the High Sierra in 1927.Yosemite Association, 1993, pp. 36, 54, and 56.
  • ShiPu Wang: Chiura Obata: An American Modern. Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018.