CATS IN THE ENLIGHTENMENT (Part 12 – Cats in Art)

Conspicuous as ever, the ubiquitous cat posed for the painters of the century.  The typical cats in art trying to steal fish or meat, or having a duel with a dog, were now accompanied by the cat’s presence in portraits, especially of children and/or ladies.  In the 1713 Dutch Baroque painting, A Woman and a Fish Pedlar in a Kitchen by Willem Van Mieris (1662-1747), a cat sits at the bottom of the picture looking up at a dead duck as the woman and the peddler perhaps haggle over a price.

 

In the 1728 painting by Chardin, The Ray, we see the same sort of realism as in Van Mieris’ work, but here the cat is the sole actor on the canvas, greedily treading over oysters probably unable to decide where to start first.  Chardin greatly impressed Diderot when he proclaimed that painting was done with emotions not just colors.  “Who told you that one paints with colors? One makes use of colors, but one paints with emotions.”  Even though painted with emotion, most of Chardin’s paintings relay peacefulness and profess no real message.

 

The Ray Jean Simeon Chardin 1728 The Louvre cats in art

The Ray
Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
1728
The Louvre

 

In another of his paintings, Still Life with Cat and Fishpainted the same year, the cat takes center stage again, surrounded by a veritable feast of fish. 

 

 

 

In yet another fish themed painting we see a cat trying to sneakily grab an oyster.

 

 

The expression of expectation on the cat’s face in Partridge, Hare and Cat (1730) again shows the cat as the only living thing on the canvas, looking up, ready to steal the partridge which lies next to a dead hare.

 

Partridge, Hare and Cat Jean Baptiste Simeon 1730 Adolph Menzel Museum, Berlin cats in art

Partridge, Hare and Cat
Jean Baptiste Simeon
1730
Adolph Menzel Museum, Berlin

 

In a different attitude, a cat sits patiently in the foreground of The Washerwoman, 1735, where a lone woman washes clothes, the cat a symbol of domesticity. 

 

The Washerwoman Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin 1735 Toledo Museum of Art

The Washerwoman
Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
1735
Toledo Museum of Art

 

 

Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? 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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