Cats in the Enlightenment (Part 17 – Cats in Asian Art)

Europeans were not the only ones painting our famous beast during this period.  Japanese, Chinese, Korean and even Indian painters also included cats in Asian art of the 18th century.  Children with a Cat and Mouse, 1768-69, by the Japanese painter Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770), shows a young boy holding a rather large white cat while his mother and sister look on.

Children with a Cat and Mouse Suzuki Harunobu Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, cats in asian art

Children with a Cat and Mouse
Suzuki Harunobu
1768-1769
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In another painting, Harnobu captures the princess Nyosan-no-Miya with her cat at her feet, a typical pose for the time.   

 

Third Princess Nyosan-no-Miya and her Cat Edo Period 1769-1770 Suzuki Harnobu Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, cats in asian art

Third Princess Nyosan-no-Miya and her Cat
Edo Period 1769-1770
Suzuki Harnobu
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gan Ku, influenced by the Chinese Nagasaki style, created a rather ornate realistic scroll painting where a black and white cat has just killed a bird.  

Cat Killing a Bird Hanging Scroll Edo Period 1782 Gan Ku British Museum, cats in asian art

Cat Killing a Bird
Hanging Scroll
Edo Period 1782
Gan Ku
British Museum

 

In another painting from the Edo period, again a black and white cat sits up to smell some peonies appropriately entitled Cat and Peonies.

Cat and Peonies Japanese Edo Period Cats in Asian Art

Cat and Peonies
Japanese
Edo Period



Another attributed to Isoda Koryûsai and also of the Edo period is Cat Looking at Three Butterflies.  The oblong representation shows a calico cat looking up at three pinkish butterflies. 

 

Cat Looking at Three Butterflies 1764-1788 Isoda-Koryûsai Harvard Museum Cats in Asian Art

Cat Looking at Three Butterflies
1764-1788
Isoda-Koryûsai
Harvard Museum

 

In Cat and a Goldfish Bowl, 1765-1780 also by Koryusai, a black and white cat stealthily balances on the rim of the bowl to look down at his hapless victims. 

 

Cat and Goldfish Bowl 1765-1780 Edo Period Isoda Koryusai cats in asian art

Cat and Goldfish Bowl
1765-1780 Edo Period
Isoda Koryusai

In Woman Holding a Cat a woman holds a black and white cat at arm’s length above her head as if it were a child with whom she were playing or admiring.  The colors black and white have similar meanings in both Japanese and Western cultures.  Black represents foreboding, doom, and death and white purity and goodness.  The symbolism of the cats being black and white might represent the duality between good and evil, or the balance of good and evil, or perhaps the Chinese concept of yin and yang. 

Woman Playing with a Cat Edo Period 1843-1847 Utagawa Kunisada

Woman Playing with a Cat
Edo Period 1843-1847
Utagawa Kunisada

 

Woman Playing with a Cat Edo Period cats in japanese art

Woman Playing with a Cat
Edo Period

 

 

Woman Holding a Cat with an Inset of an Actor on a Fan 1769-1825 Utagawa Toyokuni Museum of Fine Arts, Boston cats in asian art

Woman Holding a Cat with an Inset of an Actor on a Fan
1769-1825
Utagawa Toyokuni
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Moving away from the peaceful coexistence with nature that the Japanese prints depict, the 18th century Indian painting, A Lady Chases a Cat with a Stick, reveals a rude violence that sharply contrasts with Japanese depictions of the cat. 

Indian Lady Chases a Cat with a Stick 18th Century Artist Unkown cats in Indian art

Indian Lady Chases a Cat with a Stick
18th Century
Artist Unkown

Painters in Korea and China also found the cat to be an irresistible subject.  In Painting of Cats and Sparrows by Byeon Sangbyeok-Myojakdo a black and white cat and a tabby and white cat look at each other as one climbs a tree filled with birds. 

 

Cats and Sparrows 18th Century Byeon Sangbyeok Myojakdo cats in korean art

Cats and Sparrows
18th Century
Byeon Sangbyeok Myojakdo

 

 

And in the Chinese painting Cat Watching a Butterfly, we see a black and white long haired cat looking up totally absorbed in the meanderings of the unsuspecting butterfly.

Cat Watching a Butterfly 18th Century-Chinese Qinq Dynasty Gao Cheng Mou Museum of Fine Arts, Boston cats in chinese art

Cat Watching a Butterfly
18th Century-Chinese Qinq Dynasty
Gao Cheng Mou
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


 

 

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Comments

  1. This is such beautiful art! It is so interesting to see how other cultures have viewed cats throughout history. The bond between cats and humans is undeniable (unless you are in India apparently LOL).

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