Cats been companions to people for centuries, but they've also served as creative muses for countless artists across the world. In Japan, felines have held particular importance ever since they arrived in the 6th century by way of Buddhist monks from China. Their popularity became so widespread that by the mid-1800s, kitties were frequently depicted in ukiyo-e, or Japanese woodblock prints. Artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861) was especially fond of cats and created a variety of illustrations where felines are the stars.
Originally from Edo (modern-day Tokyo), Kuniyoshi displayed artistic talent from an early age and apprenticed with a well-known ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Toyokuni. Eventually, he embarked on his own and adopted the name “Kuniyoshi.” His prints of warriors, which were inspired by folktales and mythology, solidified him as one of the masters of the art form. In the 1840s, however, new laws were introduced that censored what could be portrayed in art. It was during this time that Kuniyoshi began incorporating cats into his printmaking, circumventing the strict requirements.
Calicos, tuxedo cats, and tabbies were portrayed in the same manner as human figures. Kuniyoshi combined his realistic observations with a whimsical aesthetic, producing prints where cats were arranged to resemble the kanji of different types of fish, in his series Neko no ateji. Another well-known piece replicated Hiroshige's Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō with dozens of kitties. The book Cats in Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi celebrates the artist's feline-inspired oeuvre. Compromising 204 pages, this tankobon-style book explores the way in which Funiyoshi captured cats in his later years.
You can purchase Cats in Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi at Bookshop.
For centuries, cats have been a muse for artists around the world.
A book entitled Cats in Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi highlights the tradition of cats in Japanese woodblock prints, ukiyo-e.
h/t: [Open Culture]