Koi Fish in Art

Ah the mysterious, beautiful koi fish. New Elements is a huge fan of this magical fish, as they are the subject of many of our wonderful artists. But why are they so commonly found in art? It's not just their beauty, although that must have a lot to do with it. Let's find out more about this intriguing fish!


Koi history

Found particularly in abundance among Chinese and Japanese art, koi fish first rose to prominence around 200 years ago. Farmers in Japan breed these lovely creatures for their hardy demeanor and ability to survive the harsh winters as a food source. Soon the breeders noticed how beautiful some of these fish were, and their status rose as not only a food source, but also creatures kept by nobles.

Eventually nobles began keeping this specific species exclusively as pets, feeding them a specialized and rare food called Fu. The fish were said to gently eat the food as it was sprinkled on top of the water, as if they were dancing at the surface.


Now hobbyists are found around the world, and the koi fish is a popular subject of art. It symbolize success, ambition, perseverance, and advancement in life. Sullivan Anlyan's fish is a lovely example of koi found in art!

Sullivan Anlyan's Koi Fish painting

Name meaning

In the West, 'koi' refers to the special kind of carp we are so used to seeing. In Japan, however, 'koi' refers to all carp, and the very specific popular breed we see are called 'nishikigoi.' Nishikogoi translates to 'swimming jewel'...which is aptly named! Nishikogoi is also a name used to describe the intricate designs of kimono fabric.


Returning to the word 'koi', in a cute twist of linguists there is a similar word in Japanese that sounds the same, but means 'love' and 'affection.' Sally Sutton's work exhibits all kinds of love to us!

Incredible koi fish and freshwater scene-beautiful for over the sofa or mantle.

BF Reed's pastel koi.

In Feng Shui and Art

Koi fish play a large role in Feng Shui. The Chinese often recognize the animal as having 'yu', or bringing abundance and wealth into the home. A koi's ability to swim upstream also make it a solid symbol of determination. It is said that in each Feng Shui, 9 koi should be displayed in art. This is because the number 9 symbolizes attainment and completion. Further, each fish can be broken down by color--for instance, you will want a black koi for protection, and a white one to create balance with the black one (yin and yang). Start your collection of 9 by viewing BF Reed's wonderful pastel drawings of these fish!


Sources: 1, 2, 3


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