Cats! or, International Cat Day, 2016

It’s International Cat Day! Which is, in my book, a very important sort of day. It’s also a pretty great excuse for something a bit lighter than average current events: a celebration of the cat, in (public domain) art and in gif. It’s also a pretty great time to point out that cats are, in the words of this headline, the “unsung heroes of mental health” care. Here’s to cats!

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 1887 oil on canvas, Julie Manet with CatWikimedia Commons.

Julie Manet looks like a pretty serious kid–she probably was, given her family’s occasionally convoluted histories and ill health–but she’s also got a good buddy there, in her friendly Cat. Julie’s probably idealized, and perhaps Cat is as well–but as a lifelong cat lady, I’d know that cat’s body language anywhere. It’s purring right now, through layers of oil on canvas.


Mary Cassatt’s 1908 Sara Holding a CatWikimedia Commons.

I’m pretty sure the cat above is actually a kitten: it has that unformed, unfinished, slightly mad look of nearly every kitten I’ve ever known, looking in its way as much a baby as Sara herself. It also looks pretty interested in something just over there, but it isn’t quite sure it wants to spring yet. Sara holds it pretty well, after all.

Plate #101 from Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views from EdoWikimedia Commons.

Cat at window: it doesn’t matter where cat is looking, or what the landscape is like, or even if it’s an indoor/outdoor cat–every cat hangs out and looks out the window at the world full of (edible, right?) creatures. (It’s also worth noting that Japanese prints are a wealth of amazing, and loving, cat depictions; unfortunately, I couldn’t find that many in readily accessible public domain format, and, given the fragility and instability of prints as a medium, they are rarely on display at museums.)

Su Hanchen’s Children Playing on a Winter Day, from Wikimedia Commons.

The hanging scroll above–that of two little people playing with their little cat–is from the 12th Century; it dates to the Song Dynasty, and Wikimedia Commons suggests it may originally have belonged to the Royal Family. Whomever commissioned it, however, the artist caught both the kids and their kitten well, and they’ve come through the centuries as lively little creatures, intent on their game.

John White Alexander’s The Green Dress, c. late 19th century. Wikimedia Commons.

Whomever the lady in the green dress is, she’s clearly taking time out from her busy social whirl to hang out with her cat, who is chasing dust motes and smushing its face up against her. When she heads back out she’ll be covered in black hair, but, somehow, I doubt she cares: the purring and the affection will have more than made up for it, and, going by her dress, she likely has maids to brush cat hair off anyway. (Unless it’s on all the furniture, too.)


Chat Noir

Steinlen’s Tournée du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis, 1896 poster. Flickr image by Paul James.

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, unlike most of the artists featured here, was perhaps an early graphic designer; the commanding cat of Rudolphe Salis’ Chat Noir is an excellent piece of advertising, one which has long outlived the space for which it was designed. And how could it not? That cat is magnificent: a cat’s cat, here to lord it over us all.

There are really too many amazing medieval cats from which to choose: they are, basically, the best, as evidenced by this tragically small sampling of marginal and otherwise medieval cats. (Marginal, in this case, means marginalia, not unimportant. They are indeed on the margins of manuscripts, but that’s about their only connection to “marginal.”) They even walked all over their peoples’ work, just like they do now. Also just like cat people now, cat people then were indulgent and owned by their beasts, as evidenced by Pangur Bán, whose human was a ninth-century Irish monk. (For even more amazing cats from Medieval manuscripts, check out the cats on the amazing and fabulous Discarding Images tumblr. (Definitely check out this monkey hugging a cat, in both medieval and contemporary versions.)

From Buzzfeed.

Medieval cats are a pretty great transition from Serious Art Cats to gif cats. Like medieval marginalia cats, gif cats are a mix of absurd, hilarious, and catlike: the cat above, busy killing the paper emerging from that dastardly printer, is definitely catlike. (It’s also a pretty good reaction gif.)

also from some Buzzfeed article.

Happy International Cat Day!