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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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