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Painted Cats

There's no need for a piece of sculpture in a home that has a cat. - Wesley Bates

Throughout the centuries cats have been given high status and admired, or treated as devils in person, but they were rarely ignored. From earliest times cats have made their appearance in art, and not just the great cats, such as lions and tigers. Domestic cats have also contributed more than their share of artistic inspiration. In ancient Egypt cats, although not treated as little gods, were certainly venerated. This is perhaps best represented in Bast - a goddess with the body of a woman and the head of a cat. Another example of the importance of the cat in Egyptian life is shown by the funeral papyrus below. The papyrus shows the final section of Hunefer's Illustrated Book of the Dead; a collection of spells to safeguard the deceased. The scene of particular interest is the Sun God depicted as great cat killing a serpent (top right hand corner).

Hunefer's illustrated Book of the Dead, 1200BC


Cats are also frequently depicted in Japanease art. The Japanese believe that the white lucky cat invites happiness. This is perfectly depicted in Cat Looking at Fields at Asakusa by Ando Hiroshige which shows the quiet interior of the household (emphasized by the tranquility of the cat) in contrast to the bustle of life outside.
Ando Hiroshige, 1856
One of my favorites from Asian culture is The Cat Back by Hu Chan. Hu Chan is a contemporary artist educated in Southern China who specializes in oil paintings. He is evidently as comfortable with Western-style oil painting as with traditional Chinese ink drawings. The Cat Back shows the perfect lines of a Siamese cat and it is one of a number of cat paintings by this artist.
Cats are are frequently featured in paintings of European masters from Leonardo da Vinci through Renoir and Manet to Picasso and contemporary artists. In many of these paintings, cats are not themselves the subject but rather part of the snapshot, a part of everyday life. A typical example is Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin and Child with Cat where the cat represents children's play.
Leonardo Da Vinci, c.1480
Renoir was fond of including cats in his paintings. Sleeping Girl and Cat shows the peaceful figure of a sleeping girl, the relaxed informality of the scene emphasized by the cat on her lap. You can almost hear the cat purring quietly. Perhaps more provocative is the painting Young Boy with a Cat, painted in the late 1860s, where Renoir uses a more formal technique of figure painting.
Sleeping Girl and Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880

Manet's painting of his wife ('La Femme au chat') depicts his family cat Zizi; of which he was very fond. Zizi was drawn many times by the artist, and also appears in watercolor sketches in his letters sent from Bellevue.

In the late 19th century George Baxter introduced a unique method of woodblock printing which he patented in 1835. In his technique he introduced steel plate and four colour blocks to produce a high degree of definition. Puss Napping perfectly illustrates this technique. This picture of a Tabby serves to demonstrate how the technique brings out the fine, well defined stripes of the cat's coat.
George Baxter, 1856

God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. - Pablo Picasso

Although it cannot be said that the cat dominated Picasso's work, there are excellent examples of his appreciation of the cat as a subject. The Cat shown here, is an example of a simple but perfect drawing of a cat's head.
Another of my favorites is Christopher "Kit" Wood's Siamese cats. It is a chalk sketch of two Siamese cats grooming each other. The natural grace of Siamese cats is perfectly represented here. Although no one is certain of the origin of these cats, it is believed that they belonged to Jean Cocteau (a poet and novelist) whom Wood met in Paris.
Christopher Wood, 1927

Like a graceful vase, a cat, even when motionless, seems to flow. - George F. Will

Perhaps the best, although slightly satirical illustration of the above quote can be shown in the work of British artist, Marilyn Robertson. Thomas the Cat is part of the series of cat paintings which also include Sebastian the Cat, Jasper the Cat and Leopold the Cat.

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats. - Albert Schweitzer


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