This is Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s “Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido“. It seems that you can spell his name Kuniyoshi Utagawa. Perhaps someone can explain that.
Utagawa Kuniyoshi was a master of the Japanese ukiyo-e style of making woodblock prints and paintings. He lived 1797-1861. The title is a reference to “The Tōkaidō road, linking the shōgun’s capital, Edo, to the imperial one, Kyōto, was the main travel and transport artery of old Japan.”1
The artist travelled this road and was impressed. He seems to have used it as inspiration to paint 53 cats. I have guessed that. I have not counted the cats 😉
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I like it because my guess is that this talented artist of 200 years ago lived with cats. A lot of artists like cats. If not he certainly studied them and understood cat behavior. Some of the poses are very typical. For example, the nose touch as a cat-to-cat greeting is something we commonly see today, which he observed. He painted cats quite often.
Unsurprisingly, fish was a big part of the Japanese cat’s diet. Fish is a big part of the Japanese diet. The cats also chased mice to balance their diet. Most of the cats are Japanese Bobtails but you can also see tabbies, a black cat and a single colored cat. The tabbies are mackerel tabbies. The cat bottom left has a standard length tail.
It goes without saying, really, that there were a range of random breed cats in Japan 200 years ago some of which were bobtailed (short tail) and some of these had tricolor or bicolor coats with lots of white fur. Black and orange blobs were the most interesting to the Japanese, which is why they ended up being a cat breed. At the time they were not formally a cat breed. There was no such concept at that time. Although they were a breed, in effect. They were just not recognised as such.
Like all artists he was obviously very observant and that is why you can see cat behavior so accurately portrayed.
It seems to me that not much has changed in respect of the relationship between a Japanese person in Japan and his cat. Neither have the cats changed that much either. They even had overweight problems and you also see an underweight cat (bottom left).
Ref 1 – Wikipedia.