To celebrate having almost 800 likes on my Facebook page and because I want to do something to lighten the mood during the Covid-19 crisis, I decided to start a new project on the 1st of May. I will be making new drawings regularly (the aim is new art every few days) and I am giving away the originals amongst my followers.
This is the second drawing I will be giving away in the lottery.
Giveaway drawing #2 "Sniffing the Third Line"
20,4 x 20,9 cm
Watercolour and ink on paper
I have been thinking about drawing a cat playing go for a while, inspired by several photos of cats playing around with go stones and in particular by two Japanese artworks made circa 1850. A few years ago Dutch go collector Theo van Ees showed me two woodblock prints by Kunisada Utagawa I (1786-1864) from his collection, in which a cat or a cat-like animal is positioned next to a go board with stones on it. These artworks were printed in a small picture book sized 17.5 x 11.5 centimeters, called ehon in Japanese, one of them on the cover and the other on the inside.
The print from the inside of the booklet is black and white and seems to depict a mythological go match taking place in a forest. Perhaps the two players are situated on a mountain, because clouds are visible under and above the branches of the trees. Next to the two fierce individuals, who are clearly immersed in their game of go, sits an animal. It probably is not a cat, but instead a wild animal of sorts, since it has claws and finds itself in a mountain forest. A bear, maybe?
According to the seller that Theo bought the book from, the print shows "a demon playing the game of go". That is all I know about this print and I would love to know more about its story.
Edit on 19th of May:
My sister Philo Ouweleen, who is a Japanologist, has delved more deeply into the matter.
Because of the added value of the written text in this type of booklet and its date, it is more accurately described as kusazoshi (草双紙) rather than ehon. More specifically, this is a gokan (合巻), a type of picture book that was popular in the late Edo period. Quality scans of all gokan can be viewed on this page and over here.
The volume that depicts these two go scenes is written by Mantei Oga (万亭応賀, 1818~1890). The title on the cover reads 倭文庫十七編, which roughly translates to "Japanese writings collection, 17th volume". Its full title is written on the inside of the book and reads 釈迦八相倭文庫, meaning "The Eightfold Path of the Buddha, collection of Japanese books". This volume is number 17 in a series of 58 books that tell an adapted, easily readable version of the story of Gautama Buddha and his path to enlightenment. The woodblock print artwork in the series appears to be a collaboration between Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川 国貞, 1786-1864), Utagawa Kunisada II (歌川 国貞, 1823-1880) and Kawanabe Kyosai (河鍋 暁斎, 1831-1889). Utagawa Toyokuni (歌川豊国, 1769- 1825) is also mentioned. The series was published between 1845 and 1871. The publication of volume 17 can indeed be pinpointed to circa 1850.
All pages of the 17th volume can be viewed in its entirety here. Number 27 and 30 show the artworks that I refer to and in addition number 36 also shows a go scene.
And what about the black and white print and the mysterious bear? Actually, the bear is a cat afterall! A bakeneko to be precise, a supernatural creature (yokai) from Japanese mythology and folklore. According to the legends, a bakeneko - a "ghost cat" or "monster cat" - begins life as an ordinary house cat which is fed too much and becomes unusually large. Once reaching an immense size (I kid you not), the animal begins to display magical abilities or supernatural powers such as therianthropy, making it a shapeshifter. Pretty epic for a fat cat!