Hokusai and four other ukiyo-e masters featured.

There’s a natural tendency to associate everything done by historical figures with a weighty significance. If a painter’s work is still celebrated long after their passing, then surely when they picked up a brush it was because they felt an irrepressible need to capture the spirit of the era they lived in, to convey the emotions and truth of it to future generations, right?

Maybe. But sometimes even history’s greatest artists, in taking inspiration from their observations and surroundings, must have had times where they thought, “Wow, look at those cute kitties!”

For example, that feline trio pictured above? They were painted by Utagawa Hiroshige (1761-1829), one of Japan’s most famous ukiyo-e artists. Adorable and classy, it’s a piece of art that’d look nice hanging on a wall, or adorning a shirt, which brings us to Uniqlo’s latest T-shirt line.

The Wagara Dobutsu (Japanese-print Animals) collection is a collaboration between Uniqlo and Tokyo-based ukiyo-e publisher Unsodo. Each of the five shirts draws from the artwork of a different painter from Japan’s Edo era, the peaceful period that followed centuries of civil war and gave Japanese society enough breathing room for a renaissance of arts and culture.

▼ The Hiroshige shirt has one more cat on the sleeve.

No discussion of Edo artists is complete without mentioning Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose Great Wave of Kanagawa is perhaps the best-known piece of Japanese art ever produced. But did you know that he also sometime took the time to paint cuddly-looking puppies?

▼ The pups are embroidered on the pocket for extra elegance.

The Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1829) shirt has a whimsical, playful tone to it.

Tigers aren’t native to Japan, and in the days before photography people many people in the country were reliant on word of mouth as to what the to-them only-overseas animals looked like. Sometimes the artist’s imagination had to fill in some of the gaps, and Hoitsu’s depiction has some similarities to akabeko, Japan’s traditional “red bull” good-luck charm figurines.

▼ Akabeko

The Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) shirt is the only one with a design on both the front and back.

The front keeps things understated, with a lone chick

…but things are much more dynamic on the other side.

Finally, rounding out the lineup is Ogata Korin’s (1658-1716) depiction of a group of cranes, with the watery look of the shirt’s fabric also a highlight.

Each of the shirts is priced at 1,990 yen (US$13) and available through the Uniqlo online shop here. And if you now want even more cute animal pictures from famous Japanese artists, we’re happy to help you with that too.

Source: Uniqlo
Top image: Uniqlo
Insert images: Uniqlo (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Pakutaso
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