Today is the day – for some it’s more important than Valentine’s Day, more important than Boxing Day, and even more important than International Pizza Day. Today is… INTERNATIONAL CAT DAY!
As the proud owner of Pimpa the Cat, the laziest cat in the world, I do what I must do to celebrate this occasion. I have collected 15 most purrific cats in art history that every cat lover would put on their wall. In some of them cats play the main role, in others they are just there, even though we all know that in reality cats always play the main role because they rule the world.
1. Louis Wain – The Bachelor’s Party
Louis Wain and his cats deserve a separate article – one day it will be published here, I promise! Wain was one of the most popular English illustrators. Born in 1860, he became superfamous for his anthropomorphic portrayals of cats. As the English writer H.G. Wells remarked, “he invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world.” The thing is that Wain was mentally ill and probably had schizophrenia which might have caused his obsession with cats (read more: 4 Artists Who Suffered Mental Illness And How It Affected Their Art). He became known as a leading authority on all things cats and was elected president of the National Cat Club. He judged cat competitions and was involved in several animal charities. He worked for nearly thirty years, sometimes producing as many as several hundred drawings a year – which still amuse every cat and art lover.
2. Franz Marc – The White Cat
Franz Marc is known for his images of brilliantly colored animals – horses, dogs, and of course, cats. In 1911-12 Marc displayed his works in Munich. His paintings of cats illustrate the animals in their natural state of sleeping or grooming. Some of his famous cat paintings show cats on a yellow pillow, two cats blue and yellow, cat basket, and cats on a red cloth. For him, animals were the ideal symbol of purity, truth and beauty and he believed in symbolism of colors – blue meant spirituality and masculinity, yellow feminine happiness, and red represented violence.
3. Hiroshige II – A White Cat Playing with a String
This is a rather unusual fan print designed by Hiroshige II who often closely followed the style and designs of his immensely successful mentor who was, of course, also called Hiroshige. This print reflects Hiroshige II’s own unique approach. It shows the artist’s close observation of a house cat, depicted in a bold and minimal manner. This cute and chubby white bobtail cat is biting a blue string. With hind legs braced against the ground, he appears ready to pounce. If you are a cat owner you know this cat’s face very well!
4. Suzan Valadon – Raminou
Suzanne Valadon was a French painter and artists’ model. In 1894 she became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Valadon painted still lifes, portraits, flowers, and landscapes that are noted for their strong composition and vibrant colors. She was, however, best known for her candid female nudes that depict women’s bodies from a woman’s perspective. She was also a cat lover and often painted her cats, especially favourite fat Raminou.
5. Marc Chagall – La Poeté
Known as a pioneer of modernism and a major Jewish artist, Marc Chagall experienced modernism’s “golden age” in Paris, where he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism, Fauvism and Surrealism. Through his long life he used typical motifs and subjects in most of his work: village scenes, peasant life, and intimate views of the small world of the Jewish village, everything presented in a dreamy, unreal scenery. Cats often helped emphasize the fantastic character of his paintings and played a major part in many of them. They are usually the companions of the figures he painted – poets, musicians, women, like we see on this painting above.
6. Pablo Picasso – Cat Catching A Bird
Picasso’s Cat Catching a Bird was created in a couple of versions in 1939 – the year of the outbreak of the war. As Picasso himself recalled: “The subject obsessed me, I don’t know why”. The bird struggles desperately to free itself from its tormentor’s hold. The neutrality of the background does nothing to relieve the horror of the scene. It is an image of everyday life blown up to apocalyptic proportions. The cat is postponing as long as possible the killing of the bird – the longer he does it, the longer he is in absolute power.
7. Min-Zhen – The Black Cat
Picasso’s cat was a cruel one – time for a smiling one! Min Zhen was a Chinese painter and seal carver born in Nanchang, Jiangxi, who spent most of his life in the Chinese city of Hubei. He was noted for painting human figures and doing occasional finger painting. He was orphaned at an early age and is sometimes associated with the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, which is the name for a group of eight Chinese painters active in the 18th century who were known in the Qing Dynasty for rejecting the orthodox ideas about painting in favor of a style deemed expressive and individualist.
It was hard to find any info about this gorgeous fat cat, but maybe just no more comments are needed here. He has just eaten all the cat food in the world and is happy now.
8. Henriette Ronner-Knip – The Cat at Play
Henriëtte Ronner – Knip was born in Amsterdam into a family of painters. She is well known for her paintings of domestic pets, primarily cats. Paintings of pets were popular with the wealthy bourgeois in the Victorian era, and her many paintings of cats getting into mischief in domestic scenes proved to be favorites. Mostly sentimental portrayals, her paintings rarely offer any metaphorical meanings and are focused only on the cats themselves. She studied her cat subjects with avidity and sincerity, even going so far as to construct a specially built glass-fronted studio wherein her cats could freely scamper about, sleep, and get into the type of trouble that only cats can put themselves into.
9. Bart van der Leck – The Cat
Bart van der Leck is known mainly as the cofounder of the magazine De Stijl. In 1916, like Piet Mondrian, he opted for radical abstraction in his work and to use the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. That choice was preceded by a quest for a new visual idiom. During his visit to Paris, he was impressed by the classical Egyptian art in the Louvre. Inspired by this, he developed a style with highly simplified forms and sober colors. Consequently, in The Cat, Van der Leck depicted the animal both from the side and in profile, and used only black, white, red, and orange.
10. Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Julie Manet also known as Child with Cat
Berthe Morisot and her husband Eugène Manet, brother of the painter, had known Renoir for many years. The Manets’ admiration for the painter’s talent convinced them, in 1887, to commission a portrait of their daughter Julie. The cat is here only the addition – but such a sweet one! Not to mention that it looks much happier than Julie. Maybe she didn’t like Renoir’s paintings, just like some American art afficionados over one hundred years later.
11. Marguerite Gérard – The Cat’s Lunch
This is how my cat looks like when I give him food.
Marguerite Gérard was famous for producing oil paintings and etchings under her brother-in-law, the great Jean-Honoré Fragonard and perhaps it was him who convinced her to add cats to her compositions – he was also famous of doing that. As a genre artist, Gérard focused on portraying scenes of intimate domestic life. However, unlike other female painters who liked to refer to classical antiquity, Marguerite Gérard often used costumes and settings from a few centuries earlier. Many of her paintings illustrate the experiences of motherhood and childhood within the household, and several emphasize the importance of music and female companionship. Cat companionship is equally important – as we can see in this painting.
12. Pierre Bonnard – The White Cat
Here, Bonnard used distortion to create a humorous image of this cat arching its back. The painter spent a long time deciding on the shape and the position of the paws, as can be seen in the preparatory drawings. There is a Japanese inspiration in the bold, asymmetric composition as well as in the choice of subject – one that was very popular in the prints that Bonnard was so fond of. Both Hokusai and Kuniyoshi in particular, whose work you can spot in this article, had painted cats. Throughout his work, Bonnard produced innumerable paintings that featured cats – sometimes as a simple detail, visible to a greater or lesser degree, sometimes, like The White Cat, as the central subject.
13. Utagawa Kuniyoshi – Cats Suggested as the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō
Fifty-five cats appear in this triptych print by the Japanese illustrator Utagawa Kuniyoshi. One of them crawls out of a basket, a few catch rats, others eat fish. Kuniyoshi loved cats and when he became a teacher, his students noted that his studio was overrun by them. His fondness for felines crept into his work and they appear in many of his finest prints. Sometimes they crop up as characters from well-known stories, other times they are beautifully expressive studies. Often Kuniyoshi would depict cats in fully anthropomorphised form like later Louis Wain.
Cats Suggested as the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō is a fun spoof on Hiroshige’s The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō which was the bestseller collection in the history of ukiyo-e. The Tōkaidō – or ‘Eastern Sea Road’ – had fifty-three different post stations along its route and these provided stables, food, and lodgings for travellers. Kuniyoshi decided to show these stations through cat puns. For example, the forty-first station of the Tōkaidō is called Miya. This name sounds somewhat like the Japanese word oya (親) which means ‘parent’. For this reason, the station is depicted as two kittens with their mother.
14. Théophile Steinlen – The Chat Noir
Le Chat Noir was a nineteenth-century entertainment establishment in the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris. It opened on 18th November 1881 at 84 Boulevard de Rochechouart by the impresario Rodolphe Salis and closed in 1897 not long after Salis’ death. It is thought to be the first modern cabaret: a nightclub where the patrons sat at tables and drank alcoholic beverages while being entertained by a variety show on stage.
This iconic Théophile Steinlen poster advertises a nightclub which in its heyday was part artist salon, part rowdy music hall. From 1882 to 1895, the cabaret published a weekly magazine with the same name, featuring literary writings, news from the cabaret and Montmartre, poetry, and political satire. Today the reproduction of this cat can be bought everywhere in Paris.
15. Jeff Koons – Cat on a Clothesline
You can like Jeff Koons or not, but you can’t pass indifferently in front of his art. You wouldn’t see it on this photo but his Cat on a Clothesline is gigantic – it’s measurements are 312.4 x 279.4 x 127 cm. For Koons, this piece of art is “like a contemporary crucifixion. But it’s also this cute little cat, that’s just in a sock. You can also think of it as a womb-like situation, feeling that sense of protection”. You need to decide by yourself what it is for you.
The last but not least… here is Pimpa, the great supporter of DailyArt. I wish one of the great Dutch Masters of the Golden Age could have done his portrait! Or at least Hieronymus Bosch, he would do it OK as well, for example in his Last Judgement triptych which recently we have featured in DailyArt app (iOS/Android). Anyways, after all these fantastic examples of cats in art history, I just had to show to you my cat.
If you don’t have enough of cats and their artists, SORRY artists and their cats – don’t miss our other article with photos about that: Meet Famous Artists And Their Cats (Cuteness Overload) 🙂
Happy International Cat Day!
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