Artist: Hiroshige AndoTitle: Cat in the WindowSeries: 100 Famous Views of EdoDate: Showa era edition printed from recarved woodblocksMedium: Japanese woodblock printSize: oban, 9.8 x 14.75 inchesWE ARE LOOKING FROM THE SECOND STORY OF A YOSHIWARA BROTHEL over the area known as Asakusa Ricefields -- a literal description of much of the landscape. It is dusk as the sun sinks behind Mount Fuji and returning geese cross the sky. Looking closely in the middle distance, we can see a dense procession of people, a very detailed depiction of over 100 tiny heads. These are some of the thousands of visitors to the Torinomachi Festival that is being held at Washi Daimyojin Shrine, just out of sight to the right. In the foreground, we are in the room of a courtesan of middle rank. The hairpins on the floor have recently been purchased at Washi Shrine. On the window sill lie a mouth-rinsing bowl and a used towel with a stylish feather design. To the left is the border of a folding screen decorated with a bird motif. Peeping out from behind the screen, just above the hairpins, is a parcel of tissue papers delicately known as onknotogami, "paper for the honorable act." Putting this evidence together, we may surmise that the courtesan has been visited by an afternoon customer. He brought as a gift the set of hairpins, one of which has been pulled out and admired. Now the tissue paper has served its function, and he has departed. The courtesan has washed her face and rinsed her mouth and is relaxing behind the screen to the left, opening the window to let in some cool air. Finally we come to the cat, which is finely depicted. Half asleep and half awake, the cat watches not with the gaze of voyeurs like we the viewers, but with a gaze that sets it apart in its own tiny world, detached and elegant as only cats can be.
Utagawa Hiroshige or Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) was a Japanese artist during the 19th century and is considered the last great master of the ukiyo-e movement. His approach was more poetic and ambient than the typical ukiyo-e style, and his innovative compositions were a great influence to Western painters, such as Vincent van Gogh. The term ukiyo-e translates to "pictures of the floating world" and refers to a genre of Japanese art with a wide span of imagery such as kabuki actors, folk tales, landscapes, and even erotica. This movement was critical in forming the Western perception of Japanese art.
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