So I had a little modeling company the other night while posing for my friend Bruce in his studio – his adorable smoky grey cat Ika When Bruce has a model over, Ika (pronouned “EE-ka”) wanders into the studio seeking attention. She meows, jumps up, and investigates the naked person on the platform. It’s really funny. I even Tweeted about it. Cats are curious by nature, of course, and Ika wasn’t holding back on Thursday night. She treated me to some luxurious rubbing, nuzzling, and inquisitive staring. It was a very sweet display of affection and I enjoyed it even though I was trying to hold still for Bruce. I generally kept my composure, although a noticeable smile formed on my face as I felt the gentle nudges on my back, soft cat hair against my bare skin, and soothing purring vibrations. By the way, Ika and I are now having a torrid love affair
Cats make wonderful art subjects mainly because they are fairly easy to draw due to their characteristic lines and shapes: small head, triangle ears, curvy spine, big eyes. Heck even a non-artist like me can capture the basic look of a cat. In terms of color, cats offer an amazing variety: red tabbies, calicos, touches of white, patches of black, light grey, charcoal grey, golds, browns, solids, stripes, you name it. Artists throughout history have depicted cats for their visual appeal and it’s easy to see why.
What I love most about cats is their charisma. Cats are seductive. They possess a kind of magnetism you don’t see in many other animals. They move elegantly, balance effortlessly, and have a palpable sense of self. They also have lightning-fast reflexes which are very impressive. Cats walk into a room like they own the place, assert their territory, and fully expect to be worshipped. At the same time, they expect boundaries to be respected. Have you ever had a cat engage with you for play and then you go too far? They give you a confrontational look like, “Whoa, whoa, easy there. Back off, buddy. Remember, I call the shots here!”. And they will saunter away once they’ve had enough of you. Just try to mess with a cat’s tail and you will be promptly admonished. But when a cat has its guard down, as Ika did the other night, they are warm, lovable, and responsive. Few things in life feel as nice as a cat affectionately nuzzling you.
In this painting The Bridge by Carl Larsson he brings together elements of landscape, perspective, and a figure. And yet the black cat, looking back into the distance, seems to stand out as the star. Its presence almost upstages the woman in orange. A beautiful painting overall.
Renoir has never been one of my favorite painters, but he did a fine job in this portrait of Julie Manet with a cat. Julie Manet was the daughter of Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet, brother of Edouard Manet. Renoir seems to have given more expression to the cat’s face than to Julie’s:
Another young girl with a cat, this one by Antoine Jean Bail. Good action and personality in this one, although the cat seems less than amused by the feather teasing. He looks pissed!
German Expressionist Franz Marc appreciated the artistic appeal of cats. He gave feline-like attributes to the figure here in Girl With a Cat II from 1912:
A large, roughneck cat grabs for the fish in The Cook and the Cat, by Theodule Augustine Ribot, 19th century French painter. That cat is clearly a ruffian and even the cook won’t mess with it:
Giovanni Boldini used watercolor for this loose, effective piece A Lady with a Cat. I like the strokes and the color scheme:
I’ve noticed that women are more often posed with cats than men. I wonder why? Maybe because cats prefer to sit on our laps This black cat looks nice and cozy on this ballerina’s tutu. The painting, by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, is appropriately titled Ballerina with a Black Cat:
There are few female painters of note from the 17th century Dutch period, unfortunately. Judith Leyster was one. In this painting by her, A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and Eel, the expression of the cat is pretty hilarious. It’s thinking, “What the hell am I doing here with these wackos?”.
For this post I used only works of cats with people, rather than cats alone. But cat imagery is abundant in the art world, and they can be found both as main subjects and supporting players. Bruce did not include Ika in his drawings the other night, as he is exclusively a figure man. But I didn’t mind one bit having her companionship on the modeling platform, whisker tickles and all