Cat Chat — The Smallest Feline is a Masterpiece

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Excerpted from Town & Country Cat by Lynn Hollyns

“Artists have long honored the luminous spectrum of the cats persona, captivated by both his contours and symbolic potential. “Nothing is so difficult,” observed Champfleury, “as to paint the cat’s face. The lines are so delicate, the eyes so strange, the movements subject to such sudden impulses, that one should be feline oneself to attempt to portray such a subject.” Despite the formidable challenge, artists have continuously struggled to capture the cat’s essence. The attempt to immortalize the cat dawned with the rise of civilization. While the Egyptians created sleek and elegant bronze felines, the artists of the Far East reigned supreme in capturing the “domestic tiger with the grace of love, understanding of sympathy, and inescapable Oriental touch of mystery.” Recall the fluid images of the floating world, playfully depicting the feline accompanying delicate, kimono-clad beauties, strolling with parasols in hand.

In medieval times, European artists emblazoned the feline on shields and flags to represent the freedom and enlightenment they were seeking. Decorative cats were carved on religious edifices, and slyly slipped into the sacred masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance painters. A humble tabby is the centerpiece of Barocci’s celebrated alter decoration, “La Madonna del Gatt.” In Ghirlandaio’s honored fresco of “The Last Supper,” the wise feline glowers at Judas.

Leonardo da Vinci was intrigued by the evanescent nature of the cat — it’s chameleon-like expressions and ever-changing form. Later European painters, including Rembrandt and Velazquez, also picture the puss in their portraits and still lifes. Renoir captures the relationship of feline to human with langorous symmetry in his tableau of cat and boy, “Le Garcon au Chat.”

The French illustrator Grandville is celebrated for his adeptness at capturing the unique personality of the cats he portrayed, costuming them and placing them in extravagant settings. In Flemish paintings the cat is seen at home with the family, reclining by an iron stove or lapping up cream. The misanthropic, Hungarian-born Gottfried Mind was dubbed “The Raphael of Cats”; he required no other companionship and illustrated nothing but felines, imbuing them with vitality and infinite variety.

In America, the cat has best been represented in the quaint and charming realm of folk art: the feline has been painted, embroidered, engraved, carved, cast and appliqued. The many images of the cat through the ages are testimony to his beauty as well as to his capacity to symbolize ideals for which we have no words.”

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