Monday 19 July 2021

Sleeping Cat by Mori Kansai

This is an artwork by a Japanese artist who lived between 1814 and 1894. Not a lot is written about him on the Internet but I picked up his painting of a sleeping cat on Twitter. He is said to be "a distinguished representative of the Maruyama school" and he presided over the activities of the Joun-sha Kyoto painting circle according to the Saru Gallery. He used a variety of techniques including ink painting and he painted directly rather than sketching beforehand. His name is written as follows in Japanese: 寛斎 森.

Sleeping Cat by Mori Kansai
Sleeping Cat by Mori Kansai.

He studied Nanga style painting. This was a school of Japanese painting which was very popular in the late Edo period. It was popular with the literati artists i.e. the well-educated people who were interested in literature. They admired traditional Chinese culture. The paintings were made in monochrome black ink. Nanga painting is also referred to as "literati painting" or "Southern painting". The painting on this page appears not to be in this style. I suspect that the colours were far more vibrant when it was created. It is distinctly faded. The Nanga style of painting always depicted traditional Chinese subjects. 

I'd like to comment on the painting of the cat on this page by Mori Kansai. It is notable that this cat is obese. That is not a criticism of the painting because I am sure that he painted it literally. 

Perhaps he lived with cats for a cat. The painting looks faded but you can tell that this is a tricolour or tortoiseshell-and-white cat which is very popular in Japan. There is a hint of the Van marking on the forehead. The cat's tail is also coloured and not white as is most of the body of the cat.

This is a standard calico cat in Japan of that time but he or she is obese! I'm going to speculate wildly and say that this is a cat that lived with the artist. He loved his cat and gave her treats resulting in obesity. This is a female cat because all tortoiseshells and variants on the tortoiseshell coat are nearly always females. If they are male, they are sterile.

One last point: this cat is not genuinely sleeping but snoozing. The body position indicates that. It is too alert to be genuinely sleeping. He should have titled it 'Cat Snoozing'. It doesn't sound as good though.

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