King of Cats

Inagaki Tomoo (1902-1980)

猫の王様 – 稲垣知雄 (1902-1980)

Inagaki Tomoo is best known as a Japanese print artist who portrays playful cats in abstract compositions. He was a self-taught artist who began making sōsaku hanga, or creative prints, in 1924. Traditionally, Japanese artisans created woodblock prints in a studio system involving several artists and a publisher to produce one piece. By the early 20th century, there was a new movement of individual artists making their own prints from design concept, to cutting the woodblocks, inking the woodblocks, printing, and distribution of the final product.

Inagaki Tomoo was one of these innovative artists. In the Morikami Museum Collection, we have a large grouping of notebooks, sketchbooks, drawings, paintings, and small-scale prints that demonstrates his versatility as an artist. The selection of over 100 items was a gift from William and Roberta Stein, owners of Floating World Gallery in Chicago. Some of the drawings and paintings are dated and range from 1923 to 1953, representing the early part of his career.

King of Cats

King of Cats

mid-20th c.

pencil and colors on paper

4.25” H x 6” W

2003.029.007b

King of Cats

King of Cats

mid-20th c.

pencil on paper

5.125” H x 3.5” W

2003.029.007a

Like most art students, he began by studying other artists. One of the notebooks titled “Western Fine Arts,” includes handwritten notes (in Japanese) on various types of compositions and techniques used in the west and adopted by sōsaku hanga artists. Beautiful painted landscapes of the Japanese countryside on paper and small wooden panels show his mastery of Western perspective using a single vanishing point at the horizon, while maintaining an unusual point-of-view typical of Japanese aesthetics. A few figures, including a self-portrait of the artist sketching outdoors reflect his study of Western techniques. An abundance of flora and fauna also grace the pages of these sketchbooks and you can see a certain sensitivity to the phases of nature from sprouting shoots to decaying fruits.

Landscape

Landscape

1923

watercolor on paper

5.25” H x 8.375” W

2003.029.038

Landscape

Landscape

mid-20th c.

watercolor on paper

7.25” H x 9.375” W

2003.029.041

Self Portrait

Self portrait

mid-20th c.

pencil and colors on paper

11.25” H x 9.5” W

2003.029.010

An abundance of flora and fauna also grace the pages of these sketchbooks and you can see a certain sensitivity to the phases of nature from sprouting shoots to decaying fruits. This attention to detail in nature is very much a part of Japanese aesthetics. Inagaki explores this element in his sketches and still-life compositions.

Iris

Iris

mid-20th c.

pencil and colors on paper

12” H x 9” W

2003.029.008b

Corn Stalk

Corn stalk

mid-20th c.

pencil on paper

12.25” H x 8.5” W

2003.029.011o

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

mid-20th c.

pencil and color on paper

12.25” H x 8.5” W

2003.029.011d

Pair of Flowers

Pair of flowers

mid-20th c.

pencil and color on paper

11.25” H x 9.5” W

2003.029.009

Anemone in a vase

Anemone in a vase

mid-20th c.

colors on paper

11.125” H x 9” W

2003.029.049

Cherries in a Dish

Cherries in a dish

mid-20th c.

watercolor on paper

3” H x 4.5” W

2003.029.052

Inagaki’s astute observations of the natural world are especially evident with his depictions of cats, which he started developing in 1951. Each feline has their own individual character, distinct moods, and unique expressions as they interact with one another. His later works are more abstract as he collapses the depth in the composition using large flat surfaces and distinct textures. The Morikami Museum recently purchased three woodblock prints to complete this unique set by a single artist.

Cat with large head and one blue eye

Cat with large head and one blue eye

mid-20th c.

pencil and color on paper

11” H x 8.25” W

2003.029.001e

Group of Cats

Group of cats, mid-20th c.

mid-20th c.

pencil and color on paper

11” H x 8.25” W

2003.029.001f

Two Cats Wearing Necklaces

Two Cats Wearing Necklaces

mid-20th c.

pencil on paper

5.125” H x 3.5” W

2003.029.007a

Cat with Pendant

Cat with Pendant

1959

woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

25” H x 14.5” W

Museum purchase

2020.009.001

Cats in Moonlight

Cats in Moonlight

mid-20th c.

pencil on paper

5.125” H x 3.5” W

2003.029.007a

Cats at Dusk

Cats at Dusk

1972

woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

19.75” H x 23.5” W

Museum purchase

2020.009.002

Quarreling Cats

Quarreling Cats

ca. 1960

woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

25” H x 18.5” W

Museum purchase

2020.010.001

These illustrations show us Inagaki’s design process from basic pencil sketches, to color drawings, then fully realized woodblock prints. Inagaki’s woodblock prints are in the collections of major museums throughout Europe, the U.S., and Japan. His work is highly sought after by private collectors, too. However, the Morikami is fortunate to care for and preserve his early work and sharing his entire artistic process. Inagaki Tomoo’s whimsical creations bring a smile to my face. We hope they do the same for you.

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