Ishikawa Toraji (1875-1964, Japanese)

Ishikawa Toraji, cats in artIshikawa Toraji 石川寅治 (1875-1964, Japanese) was born in Kochi on the island of Shikoku. He studied art from the age of 17 and was a painter and printmaker known for blending Western-style motifs and techniques with traditional Japanese ukiyo-e style.

In the early 1900s, Toraji traveled extensively to the United States and Europe. In 1904, he returned to Japan and exhibited his oil paintings in the Bunten, Teiten, and Shin-bunten (New Bunten) shows held by the Japanese government. In 1915, the painter exhibited his oil paintings at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and was awarded a bronze medal for his painting titled Grape. Toraji also traveled to China, Korea, and Taiwan for some time. In 1918, Toraji produced 21 designs for the book Shin Nihon kenbutsu (Views of Japan), which included landscape renderings from his trip to Taiwan.

Toraji is primarily known as a landscape artist; however, he is best known for his woodblock series, Ten Types of Female Nudes (1934-35). This series of nudes was quite controversial for the times and some of the prints were reportedly destroyed by censors. In these prints, chubby men and women are seen relaxing with a calico cat or tuxedo cat, both symbolizing prosperity and good luck.

Toraji (1875 - 1964) - Bored, 1935

Bored, 1935


Each of these prints is a large-format polychrome accented with vibrant colors and impressed with crushed mica. The series depicts one woman in Western-style striptease while the other nine show the female nudes in scenes of seclusion and intimate privacy, similar to ukiyo-e traditions of bijin (beauty). The series was and still is sought after because of Toraji’s ability to effortlessly illustrate natural and languid figures. Additionally, the series underscores the increasing modernization of Japan and its culture. The prints reveal hints of 1920s and 1930s Western style and fashion as well as Art Deco motifs.

Toraji Ishikawa, Woman Resting with a Cat

Woman Resting with a Cat, 1935

Even though he had been censored for the nude series, the Japanese government asked him to paint scenes of China. In addition, he contributed paintings of battles during WWII. In 1943, Ishikawa became the head of Taiheiyo Bijutsu Gakko (The Pacific Art School).  He became a founding member of the Shigenkai in 1947. He contributed significantly to art education in Japan becoming an advisor for The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition.  In 1953, he received the Imperial Award of the Japan Art Academy.

Plaything, Toraji Ishikawa, 1936

Plaything, 1936

Toraji died in Tokyo at 89 in 1964.  His prints can be identified by a signature of his full name in Japanese, the name “Ishikawa” written with a seal, or a seal named Tora. Ishakawa Toraji’s work can be found in numerous collections and major museums worldwide including the British Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, National Gallery of Victoria, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Brooklyn Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, and Indianapolis Museum of Art, among others.

Toraji Ishikawa - Black Cat


Detail, Black Cat with Nude, Toraji Ishikawa

Detail, Tuxedo Cat with Nude



Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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