Utagawa Kuniyoshi as a Supreme Ukiyo-e Artist and a Doting Cat Lover
Kuniyoshi Utagawa – Supreme Ukiyo-e artist who was known as a doting cat lover as well… Kuniyoshi lived in Edo-period (1603-1868) and painted all kinds of a genre from beautiful women, popular actors, and warriors to the landscapes. His famous warriors’ paintings are awesome, but let’s check his lively creativity out in cats paintings with full of humor!
Kuniyoshi was a famous Ukiyo-e artist as well as an excellent teacher. He had numerous pupils who continued his branch of the Utagawa school.
He always kept a few or even dozens of cats by his side. Also when he got to work, he always kept his cat close to the vest. He suggested his pupils painting cats and it’s said after Kuniyoshi, numbers of cats’ works in Ukiyo-e increased.
According to one of his disciples, when one of Kuniyoshi’s cats died, the cat was buried at Eko-in temple. He even had a household Buddhist altar for cats and Buddhist memorial tablets for each cat. And he recorded every cat he had lived with to a book.
Back in the Edo period, football-lifting like a performance was very popular among everyday people.
Kuniyoshi personified cats and let them perform it in his paintings.
You can see a cat performing ball-lifting from hanging on the tree, other performing while he is smoking, arranging flowers, taking off his socks…
This painting was on a bag of snack sold in Edo. It’s taken as medicine when small kids get sick.
It’s made of rice and sugar and used as the substitution for breast milk as well. When you buy this bag of snack, it comes with five cat shaped board art and tatami (straw mat) as an added bonus. Perhaps it’s intended to play pretend game of cats.
People in Edo needed cats to protect their food storage from rodents just like ancient Egyptian people did. They put this flyer in hope for getting rid of rodents.
It’s interesting to note there were some people liked to have rats as their pet, even there were books about
how to breed mice.
This rat guard cat flyer was originally given customers as a free gift by medicine peddler of Toyama.
You don’t see what’s going on here, but you would understand once you see the below.
From left to the right, shadow represents Hannya mask[shadow represents Hannya mask, owl and lion’s face. Owl paintings were believed to stave off smallpox then.
You can see Kuniyoshi’s original idea and a great sense of humor here with these paintings in series.
Anyone who is ignorant as not to fear the danger would lose his life anytime soon.
A rat in this painting looks totally relaxed in front of the natural enemy of a cat. A cat offering legs of octopus to a rat. With a look of innocence, this rat can be eaten at any minute, but it’s his fault.rat can be eaten at any minute, but it’s his fault.
Kuniyoshi was an avid learner, even in his later years he tried to absorb new methods, knowledge to improve his paintings. Once he asked to become an apprentice of much younger japanner and painter, once rejected, but later his wish was granted and learned new method from him.
He was full of unique ideas and his solid skill made it possible to express them on papers with novel designs. Kuniyoshi was even listed on a blacklist by producing a lot of works with satire for the authority.
Yet, he never gave in and kept entertain and encourage people in Edo and his works keep inspiring us today.
回向院 (Eko-in temple) (Wikipedia)
Also published on Medium.