One of the Meiji Period’s most prolific artists painted more cats than you might have expected.
Shunso Hishida helped pioneer a movement of colors that replaced the line drawings that were typical of traditional Japanese-style paintings in the 19th century. During his lifetime, his style, called morotai,(literally “vague style”) was heavily criticized and gained very little support. However, by combing morotai with line drawings, his works eventually came to be regarded as national treasures, though we think the honor might also have something to do with the number of cats in his paintings!
His most famous piece, Kuroki Neko, resides in the Kumamoto Prefectural Art Museum, and the features painted on the cat make it quite expressive. It’s easy to see why it’s a priceless piece of Japanese art history.
It turns out that there are plenty of other paintings where a cat makes an appearance in his work. Strangely, it seems to be the same two cats every time.
▼ Shiroki Neko – In contrast to the black cat from above, this white cat drawn in 1901 seems very calm.
▼ Shunjitsu – A piece from 1902 showing an idle spring day.
▼ Neko Ume – Completed in 1906, this piece features a mature cat under plum blossoms.
▼ Ume ni Neko – A slightly different cat now in the plum blossom tree.
▼ Tsubaki ni Neko – A cute, white cat among camellia from 1909.
▼ Kuroneko – Similar in both name and design, this black cat was also completed in 1910.
▼ Kaki ni Neko – Presumably the same black kitty playing in more persimmon trees.
▼ Aogiri ni Neko – Another piece from 1910, the cat is peacefully lounging under a Chinese parasol tree.
Maybe these two felines were just strays that roamed the areas that Hishida liked to paint, or maybe they were his own two cats! Or could this master artist have just been going through a cat portrait phase? All joking aside, his distinctive style helped to influence many Japanese artists in the coming years. We’ll have to scour the history books, but you might say that Hishida created the very first cat memes.