CATS IN BAROQUE PAINTINGS (Part 2)

The Dutch painters of the golden age turned to realism instead of religious subjects, as portrait painting was much more lucrative. Dutch genre paintings tend to illustrate everyday life at all levels of society, and cats, essential to most households, are often in these still lifes and portraits.

In The Katzen Familie (1650), the Dutch painter Jan Steen captures a lively group of people playing instruments, singing and drinking. Amidst this raucous din, our gaze gravitates to two women in the upper left hand corner of the painting, who have turned their attention to a mother cat and her kittens.

Katzen Familie Jan Steen (1629-1679) Magyar Szepmuveszeti Muzeum cats in art

Katzen Familie
Jan Steen
(1629-1679)
Magyar Szepmuveszeti Muzeum

 

In Steen’s Dancing Lesson, four children sit on and around a table.  One older boy holds a cat up by its front paws, so it can stand on its back legs to dance to the tune the girl in the foreground plays on a flute. The children are laughing; the dog barking.  Polite society at this time did not condone dancing, so it is likely that the cat is a metaphor for lust and lechery, and to accentuate this attitude, at the very top of the picture, a man looks down judgmentally.  In a somewhat similar scene, in Steen’s The Family Concert, a joyous group sits together at a table, playing their various instruments, while a cat crouches over an empty bowl with a dog approaching in the foreground.

 

 

The Family Concert Jan Steen 1666, cats in art

The Family Concert
Jan Steen
1666

 

Dutch genre paintings did not always mirror happy and gay scenes; they also touched upon the everyday domestic problems that had to be dealt with.  In The Idle Servant by Nicolaes Maes, a mistress confronts issues arising from having an inept housemaid.  A cat, in the upper right hand corner of the picture, is making away with a bird, symbolic of the chaos in the house, while the housemaid and her employer contemplate the mess of dishes on the floor.

The Idle Servant with cat Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693), cats in art

The Idle Servant
Nicolaes Maes
(1634-1693)


 

In the Dutch Baroque painting of Gabriël Metsu, (1629-1667) Woman Eating and Feeding her Cat, a woman sits with a plate on her lap, a dead chicken in the forefront, and a fallen flower from a bouquet that symbolizes death.  She offers a dark stripped cat, begging at her knee, a morsel. The viewer cannot help but be affected by this dim, lonely scene.

Woman Feeding a Cat Gabriel Metsu 1662-1665 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, cats in art

Woman Feeding a Cat
Gabriel Metsu
1662-1665
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

Etchings also conveyed dramatic energy as seen in Man with Cat on Shoulder and Mouse in Hand by Cornelius Danckert (1630-40). The man looks almost frightened by what the cat will do to get the mouse he holds in his hand; whereas in Two Children with Cat, the two boys laugh heartily, while holding a more contented feline. 

Man with a Cat on His Shoulder Cornelius Danckerts Etching 1630-1640, cats in art

Man with a Cat on His Shoulder
Cornelius Danckert
Etching
1630-1640
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

 

Two Children with Cat (after Frans Hals) Cornelius Danckert 1630-1640 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, cats in art

Two Children with Cat
(after Frans Hals)
Cornelius Danckert
1630-1640
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

In the Italian Baroque painting of Giuseppe Recco (1634-1695), Cat Stealing Fisha cat sits atop a crate, and true to its nature, claws at a fish fallen from the box.  The lighting is intense and the action of the cat grabs our attention.

Cat Stealing Fish Guiseppe Recco Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, cats in art

Cat Stealing Fish
Guiseppe Recco
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


In the French genre painting, Peasant Interior with an Old Flute Player, (1642) by Louis Le Nain, a cat sits peacefully to the right of the matriarch’s chair; opposite sits a dog.   Again, the animals are added to accentuate the idea of happy domesticity.  Interestingly, it was Jules Champfleury, author of The Cat Past and Present, who through his friendship with Courbet, managed to get Le Nain’s paintings into the Louvre in the 1800’s due to a revived interest in peasant life.  

 

Peasant Interior with an Old Flute Player Louis Le Nain 1642 Kimbell Art Museum, cats in art

Peasant Interior with an Old Flute Player
Louis Le Nain
1642
Kimbell Art Museum

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