During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, illustrations of cats take us on a journey through the rise of feline significance, which will be explored in The Cats Meow. The symbolism behind cats throughout history is rather substantial, from guardians to prostitution and many things in between, which will be explored in this exhibition. For example, in Asia, cats are often recognized as animals that are able to see spirits and movements unidentifiable to the human eye. Demonstrating their value in storefronts and shops, they caught mice, which developed into an exceptional method of pest control. Queen Victoria of England introduced domesticated cats as a household pet, helping many develop the simple appreciation and acceptance of cats in the household. In today’s feline culture, many of us consider a cat a necessity to our homes. They really are The Cat’s Meow. 

Theodore Gericault was a well known French painter and lithography printer. Although when he would draw he would do it in a more technical sense of study to help advance his painting and printing. This drawing in particular, from 1820 closely studies the different movements and anatomy of a cat with 10 different poses. Exemplifying how many people at the time were becoming more and more interested in the furry, loving animal. Which eventually grew into a desire and commonality for a house pet.
By the father of modernism himself Edouard Manet prints a similar study of cats to Gericault, a tame work of art in comparison to his well-known provocative style. Generally you would find Manet working on paintings with confrontational subject matter, therefore with this print containing an unusually calmer context we are quite excited to be able to have in out collection. With loose lines and organic shapes. The Cats depicts a warm, comfortable and technical approach for Manet to understand cats as at this time.
Pierre Bonnard was a wonderful painter and printmaker in the 1900’s as well as a founding member of Les Nabis. He was inspired by the impressionists of the time. Bonnard’s paintings give a feeling of contentment, celebration and playfulness. Which you can see specifically in this painting, Child and Cats 1906. It is clear that for this household cats have been domesticated and accepted as a key part of family life. The warm colours and gesture of the child show ample appreciation for the house feline.
Franz Marc created nearly 60 pieces in lithography and woodcut during his career, many of them containing animals in their natural setting or environment. With a cubist approach to his work he wanted to achieve simplicity through his creative process, focusing intently on the study of his subject. Achieving the emotion of the artistic focus, opposed to surrounding factors within the environment. This drawing in particular, Two Cat’s is a noble example of this approach and Franz Marc’s work in the early 1900’s
This photo is on loan from the Australian National Maritime Museum, as part of the Samuel J. Hood Studio Collection. Samuel Hood was a photographer in Sydney Australia with a strong passion for ships and marine sea life. Through his experimental 60 year career was able to experience the romantic age of marine life and two world wars. This became a prime opportunity for documenting the significance of cats on ships and in marine life in general in the early 1900’s. Becoming a prime example for how accepted and appreciated cats were at this time.
Domoto Insho’s beautiful pigment on silk framed is a perfect example to further elaborate on how many of us feel about cats today, nurturing and comfortable. As illustrated in this picture, a mother cat with her kittens sunbathing, cuddled up and nurturing her young ones. It captions the motherly affection perfectly and the trust from the adorable little ones is clear in this relaxed and peaceful scene. The soft kitten looking at the viewer is so inviting and intriguing, pulling you into the painting and almost wanting you to pet it.
This photo is also the from Samuel J. Hood Collection, later in his career Hood was still excited to find the cat in the area, and was persistent to include them in the presence on the marine life. Many crew ship workers loved to keep these photos as souvenirs or to mail home to close family; this particular crew and ship did the overnight run between Sydney and Newcastle for 40 years. This is a prime example of how felines were becoming companions for many in all different areas of everyday life.
Today many of us unconditionally love cats and sometimes even worship them, because they truly do make great best friends. Sadly things have not always been so peaceful; many found the loving creature needy; more so a pest versus a pest-killing then pet. Sadly as shown here in this drawing, Svetlitsky was not fond of the neighborhood cat.
“Blackie” this well attended kitty was a favorite companion of the Albanian- American photographer well known for his many influences and modern contributions to the LIFE magazine for over 40 years. As well as his influence on the LIFE magazine he also had a large impact on the growth of contemporary photography in the 1940’s.
This drawing by Hamed Nada clearly describes the cat human relationship from the past and oddly having resemblance to our current relationship with the common feline. Similar to Cat by Domoto Insho the warm use of colors and soft use of lines provide a feeling of content. Maybe ask yourself next time you encounter a feline, how much do you think has changed with their species over history?
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