Have I mentioned I’ve been to Japan? Of course, when I went I was what can only be described as a chippy oik (definition here). I neglected to visit any of the sensational art galleries throughout Japan, despite extensive travel throughout the country. Perhaps I shall make up for this glut with the following post. Kiyochika Kobayashi (1857-1915) was a Ukiyo e painter, a school of Japanese art dedicated to depicting subjects from everyday life, on wood blocks or paintings. Cat and Lantern was a wood block piece.
[Kobayashi was] also referred to as Hoensha, Shinseiro, and others as Betsugo. He didn’t have any particular mentor, but made a friendship with Shimooka Renjo and Kawanabe Kyosai , and also being on close terms with Shibata Zeshin. In 1874 approx., he had a chance to learn the western -style painting under Wirgman, which enabled him to invent Kosenga, a new style of multi-color prints taking in the western -style painting’s technique. He also handled caricature, and in his latest years, left many autographs. Japanese Fine Arts
As you can imagine I fell in love with this woodblock print. 1886 is a little later than my favourite period of art but this is just so delightful. This is a Japanese Bobtail cat, playing with a bamboo cane and a knocked over lantern. The richness of the gold really captures my attention, especially as contrasted with the bell on the cat’s vibrant red collar. Its eyes are fixed on what appears to be a red piece of string leading into the lantern. For a wood block artwork, the light shining both through the lantern and atop the black lantern rim are exceptionally well done. The cat itself is just delightful. Its fur is meticulously rendered, as is its semi pouncing stance. I just adore this wood print piece.
According to Japanese folklore, a Japanese bobtail cat’s tail caught on fire while it was sleeping. Alarmed, the cat ran through the village and began spreading the fire with every flick of its tail. Once the village was reduced to ashes, the Japanese emperor insisted that all cats’ tails should be shortened to prevent a repeat disaster. Pet Insurance
Now in the spirit of contract and compare, see below Tomoo Inagaki’s (1902-180) Black Cat. This was painted around 1940. Inspired by Onchi and Hiratsuka, Inagaki’s cats are modern and stylised. They are almost always in black and grey. Usually modern art will send me into fits of revulsion, but this struck me as unique and quite beautiful. The wide leg stance, made popular before the Tory Power Stance debacle of 2015, the curious gaze and the crudely rendered whiskers add up to a suitable amount of whimsey. Observe the minor disruptions in the fur added around the neck and ear. The choice of shades of beige as the background to this delightful cat are a terrific contrast with the black and grey of the fur. Overall this is an excellent concept for a wood print, flawlessly executed by one of Japan’s great modern artists.
By way of an amusing tangent, please see below the cover of The Best of Emerson Lake and Palmer, which emplys with very same Ukiyo e style to combine a thoroughly modern scene with an ancient setting:
Overall I hope these two feline art works have brought a suitable amount of joy and whimsey into your day. They have certainly made mine better.