Cats in the 19th Century (Part 6-Cats in Art)

Over a 100 artists in the 19th century and through the turn of the 20th century chose to capture cats in art not only on canvas but in a myriad of advertisements, greeting cards and sculptures.  For the first time in history the cat would find itself as the primary subject of art with such artists as the prolific cat lovers Henriëtte Ronner-Knip, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen and Louis Wain choosing to almost exclusively paint their feline friends, while the well known photographer, Harry Pointer photographed them in strange anthropomorphic poses.

A Cat Henriette Ronner Knip Charcoal on Paper 1870

A Cat
Henriette Ronner Knip
Charcoal on Paper
1870

 

Deux Chats Theophile Steinlen cats in art

Deux Chats
Theophile Steinlen

 

 

Cat and Fiddle Louis Wain cats in art

Cat and Fiddle
Louis Wain

 

Cats would become human in dresses, bows and ribbons, wearing pants, and even fighting wars.  Wain and Pointer’s anthropomorphic representations brought the cat closer to the human heart by depicting it as human.  The cat’s natural viciousness was gone; instead, it sat primly clothed in dresses sipping tea, a living doll, an eternal child. 

 

Five O'Clock Tea Harry Pointer cats in vintage photographs

Five O’Clock Tea
Harry Pointer

 

“For the many nineteenth century French artists who gloried in their alienation from the respectable bourgeoisie, cats with their traditional demonic associations were a perfect symbol for the artist’s rejection of conventional standards and assumptions.  These artists saw a parallel between the cat’s supposed occult knowledge and their own superior perceptiveness, between its supposed attraction to evil and their own impulse to shock the bourgeois.  A taste for what is demonic and forbidden, in cat as in artist, indicated superiority because it proved one’s ability to see through the obtuse complacency of ordinary people.  The cat’s beauty, detachment and indifference to morality made it congenial to artists who rejected moralizing to pursue art for art’s sake. “(Rogers, 2006,p 63)

 

REFERENCES

Rogers, Katharine. (2006). The cat. Reaktion Books.

 

Want to know more about the cat in art, history and literature? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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