Two bullfinches perch on a leafy branch, looking towards the owl resting on the wizened tree to the right. He nestles his tufted head down into his feathers, looking out at the viewer. In both species, Utamaro pays careful attention to the color and textures of the birds through details such as the subtle red bokashi coloring on the throat of the male bullfinch. The image bears two poems, each a pun around the pictured bird. The left poem reads, “Even uso (the bullfinch)/ sleeps in the night/ But your lies/ Give me no perch to rest.” Uso means bullfinch, but alludes to the Japanese word for “lie.” The right text reads, “I laugh/ And cry/ At the same time/ Since you ignore me/ Like an earless owl in the tree” (translation by the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Though the male bullfinch holds his mouth open, chirping towards the neighboring branch, the owl is nonplussed. This print belongs to Utamaro’s universally acclaimed ehon (illustrated book), One Hundred Birds Compared to Humorous Ditties. Both playful and intimate, this realistic and sensitively rendered design is a testament to Utamaro’s genius as an artist.
Other impressions of this work can be found in the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.