Cats ruled the art of 19th-century Japan. Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat’s old-timey Japanese counterparts were painted, sculpted, and drawn by doting owners nearly as obsessively as today’s cats are Instagrammed. Now, 19th-century Japan’s painterly odes to the feline form are on view at the Shoto Museum of Art in Shibuya, Japan. “Shoto Museum of Art will be full of cats!” says an exuberant release for the exhibit, called ねこ・猫・ネコ (essentially, “cats” written three different ways).
Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 500s, and cats came along with it to protect sacred scriptures from mice, according to a statement from the Shoto Museum. Cats featured prominently in classical Japanese literature, like The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji (both from the 11th century). Whether cats were napping, eating, catching mice, frogs, or butterflies, or doing any of the two or three other things cats do, old Japanese artists loved to paint them. Who knows–maybe 300 years from now, the Internet Cats of 21st-Century America will be honored in a major museum exhibition. Will Lil Bub outlive us all?
Cats Cats Cats is on view at the Shoto Museum of Art until May 18th.