Art Art Exhibition English

Feline Inspiration

Cats: like Marmite, Kanye West and reality TV they tend to polarise opinions. To detractors they’re cold, calculating, sinister beings who use humans for food and attention. To cat lovers, the very traits that irk the haters – their cool countenance, air of superiority and unwillingness to be stroked if not in the mood – are all signs of character, which opposes the dogged subservience of their canine rivals (to the cat lover, dogs are just a little too…eager to please).

Paul Klee, Cat and Bird, 1928 Oil and ink on gessoed canvas, mounted on wood, 38.1 x 53.2 cm Museum of Modern Art, New York
Paul Klee, Cat and Bird, 1928
Oil and ink on gessoed canvas, mounted on wood, 38.1 x 53.2 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York

And perhaps this is why so many artists seem to be in league with moggies (especially 20th Century artists for some reason). You only need type in artists and their cats into Google and you’ll be greeted by a slew of pictures of the most influential artists of the last century positively cooing over their cats – Picasso, Klee, Dali, Matisse…the list goes on. Perhaps these visionaries found a spiritual alignment with the feline aloofness, which mirrored their own artistic detachment from the world; or perhaps cats represent an air of refinement so necessary to the development of some of the defining art movements of the 20th century. If Picasso, for instance, had looked to a dog for approval of one of his paintings, he’d have been greeted with a tail-wag at the earliest instance and perhaps stopped there… a cat on the other hand would turn its nose up at even the most incredible, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing painting, inspiring the artist to strive further, bigger, better, and before he (and the world) knew it, the inspiration for both the cubist and modern art movements Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was created… all because of the scorn of his pet cat. (Although this may not be proved, it certainly can’t be disproved, which is good enough for me.)

Left: Picasso's nonplussed cat averts his gaze from the camera Right: Could Picasso's masterpiece and disputed inspiration for the Cubist and Modern Art movement itself have been inspired by a cat?
Left: Picasso’s nonplussed cat averts his gaze from the camera
Right: Could Picasso’s masterpiece and disputed inspiration for the Cubist and Modern Art movements itself have been inspired by a cat?
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Oil on Canvas (244 x 234 cm).
Museum of Modern Art, New York

And then of course there’s the Egyptians. Can you imagine the Pharaohs (and their thousands of slaves of course) going to all the effort of hauling tonne upon tonne of rock on top of each other (without a single crane in sight), and then carving said rock with their bare hands, to create a stone monument of a woman’s head perched atop the body of a bugle or a sausage dog? (‘ just doesn’t work, does it?) And that’s not to mention the scores of statues, carvings and engravings dedicated to them. Cats back then weren’t just revered, they were worshipped.

Cat with Kittens (detail). Reportedly from Saqqara, Egypt. Late Period to Ptolemaic Period, Dynasty 26 or later, circa 664–30 B.C.E. Bronze, solid-cast and wood, 2⅜ x 3-7/16 x 1-15/16 in. (6.1 x 8.8 x 5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
Cat with Kittens (detail).
Reportedly from Saqqara, Egypt. Late Period to Ptolemaic Period, Dynasty 26 or later, circa 664–30 B.C.E.
Bronze, solid-cast and wood, 6.1 x 8.8 x 5 cm.
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

For proof of the Egyptians’ love for cats the Brooklyn Museum has a permanent exhibition of carvings and statues called Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt; cat lovers in the area can show their allegiance by stopping by. For all you non-Brooklynites, you can side with fellow feline fans by picking up a copy of any of the following ebooks: Picasso; Klee; Klimt; Dali; Bonnard.