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The Anniversary of Museum Cats Day – Cats in Art!

Almost a year ago, the Libraries celebrated “Museum Cat Day”, a social media celebration of cat-related objects in museums which was organized by  Culture Themes.  To see the Libraries’ contributions to Museum Cat Day, check out our Storify account of the action.  On the anniversary of such a fun social media event, we take a look at more cats in art!  This post was contributed by Ria Witteman, intern at the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery (AA/PG) Library summer 2015.  Ria is a rising third year at the University of Virginia, majoring in Art History and Spanish.

Every day at the American Art and National Portrait Gallery Library, I encounter fascinating works of scholarship on every possible topic under the sun.  Whether I am shelving books or conducting research to answer reference questions, I constantly learn about up-and-coming artists, obscure art movements, and tucked-away museums.  Most books simply spark a passing interest, but one particularly intrigued me.  I was searching through the duplicate and out-of-scope donations the AA/PG Library that would be sold at the end of the year book sale, when I happened upon this gem of a book:

Cat Art Blog Post
Busch, Heather, and Burton Silver. Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed, 1994. Print.

Posing as an academic text, this book mocks art historical scholarship by adopting an overly somber tone and categorizing cat artists by their practice and “schools”.  It seems legitimate enough with the trappings of academic text, bibliography, scientific explanations and even art historical precedents.   The reviews continuing the mock serious tone, lamenting its “strong bias towards the mainstream of cat art” and “the authors deference to the curators of that ivory tower, the Museum of Non-Primate Art”. The elaborate hoax even goes so far as to have a website for that museum.

Cats may not be artists (yet), but they certainly feature in many works of art, both ancient and modern.  The Brooklyn Museum features Egyptian cat art in its exhibit Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, currently on view.  Russian artist Svetlana Petrova inserts her tubby ginger cat Zarathustra into iconic paintings.  At the Flux Factory in New York, multiple artists collaborated on creating a urban wonderland built just for kittens.  In a similar vein, Rhonda Lieberman collaborated with other artists to design an installation in which rescue cats would live in a contemporary art habitat.


The Smithsonian itself has a huge collection of cat art such as this woodcut by Jacques Hnizdovsky at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


For true cat lovers, individual works are not enough.  There are whole museums to devoted to cats and the world’s fascination with them.   There are cats museums all across the world from San Francisco to  Lloret del Mar in Spain to Saint Petersburg.  From the Feline Historical Society in Ohio to the Kuching Cat Museum in Malaysia to the Katten Kabinet in Amsterdam, cat museums highlight figurines, sketches, paintings and memorabilia of the furry creatures. Recently opened in 2014, the Singapore Cat Museum joins this long list of cat museums.  Even live cats can be found in museums!  In the basement of the veritable Hermitage, cats have been a fixture since the age of Empress Catherine and in modern times are helping bring in donations and keep out vermin.

For those interested in the feline, check out the following books on cats at the American Art/National Portrait Gallery Library!

The Painted Cat by Elisabeth Foucart-Walter and Pierre Rosenberg

American Cat-alogue by Bruce Johnson

Me, Molly Midnight: the artist’s cat by Nadja Maril

Composition With Cat: Lost Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century by William Warmack

Impressionist Cats and Dogs by James H. Rubin

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