Cats, artistic and living, part I.

26 Jul


As most of you who followed our travel blog will know, one of my favorite photographic subjects on this trip was cats. I took photos not only of real cats that we encountered everywhere, but also of cats found in artworks in museums. Sometimes I stretched the definition of “cat” to include lions, so many of which appear in heraldry, ancient art, and monarchical images. So I have ended up with LOTS of felines!  It is most interesting, I think, to present these images by location, commenting on what they might tell us about the place:


In the city that inspired Eliot’s famous Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the source for the musical Cats, we saw, surprisingly, no street cats at all. This may be because we were in such a ritzy part of town and we didn’t go out late at night. We did find lots of sculptural lions, though–the one above is in the foyer of the British Museum, an ancient one and part of Lord Elgin’s pillaging of the Parthenon–and the National Gallery was filled with some marvelous painted examples. I love Pinturicchio’s cat, playing with Penelope’s yarn.


When we arrived at our lovely garden house in Prenzlauer Berg, we were greeted almost immediately by one of the neighbor’s cats, Pepe. Why are orange cats so likely to be so friendly?  Later he was joined by his companion Timmy, for wrestling matches on the lawn. Having them cavort made us feel so at home! And they made it possible for us to meet all of our sweet neighbors.

Artistically, we were lucky to find an exhibition at Die Brücke Museum of Max Kaus, a very interesting if little known Berlin artist, who often painted images of cats along with his wife. Max Beckmann was also a cat lover, apparently, from the number of them that appear in his intense paintings and prints. And for sweetness verging on kitsch, the Märchenbrunnen–the fairy-tale fountain–in the Volkspark Friedrichshain consists of endearing sculptures representing famous fairy tale figures, including this cat in the statue of Red Rose (Dornröschen).

While in Berlin, we made a trip to Danzig and region, my grandfather’s West Prussian birthplace. There we spotted another type of cat amid the fascinating old Mennonite houses–almost like Norwegian Forest cats. Here’s one lounging on a house stoop in my grandfather’s village.




We had some delightful interactions with real cats during our three-month stay in Vienna, all of them indoors. We never saw a cat on the street, Vienna being the tidy place that it is!  But our apartment building in Sigmundsgasse had two charming occupants who made themselves right at home in Nora’s apartment, even though they officially lived across the hall. These two were Kapidu and Puki, who often followed us up the stairs in hopes of receiving a little offering for their company. We were happy to oblige.

We also found cats in the unlikeliest places, including the gorgeous Lilith, effusive mistress of the Johannes Farber Gallery, and a sleeping Lucy at a country inn in the Kamptal. She never budged from her pillow on the bench the entire time we were there.

We were at the country inn where Lucy resides with our most enthusiastic cat fan, Heidi, Nora’s sister. After years working for Dior in Paris and in Asia, she returned to Vienna and opened a shop of cat objets d’art. Her Biedermeier apartment is filled with all manner of cats,  in the live form of the very princely Schatzi, and in artworks galore, most of them cat-oriented.

As a farewell present, Heidi gave us one of her many objects, a little tin toy of a cat with a baby pram. It’s adorable! heidistincat

I looked in vain for painted images of cats at the Kunsthistorisches. Not even the Spanish paintings had any! (If anyone has found a cat in a painting at the KHM, please let me know!) A host of cats appeared, of course, in the KHM’s superb Egyptian collections, which allowed me to spend more time in those rooms than I normally do–very enlightening. If in Vienna, be sure to look at the ancient rooms of the

Kunsthistorisches as well as in the galleries with the Bruegels and Velasquezes. A few genre paintings at the

Wien Museum included a few frisky kittens in some Biedermeier paintings, and a few glimpses of felines appeared in some Albertina offerings, but the only contemporary cat objects I saw were in shop windows.


We began to see street cats in Lisbon, although most of them in the Bairro Alto, the old district where we stayed, sat precariously on balconies or slept in shop windows.

The cats we saw here were of all colors and sizes. Most of them, even the ones in the street, looked fairly healthy and well-fed.

Lisbon is the city of magnificent tiles, so it is no surprise that the most delightful, the most rambunctious, images of cats we saw here were in some of the remarkable tiled murals in the gardens of the city.  First were the lovely tile friezes surrounding a pond in the Jardim Botánico Tropical in Belem–tigers and lions, but no domestic cats (although we did see some ferals here, too). Nothing, however, can beat the amazing Palacio dos Marquesas da Fronteira, still inhabited by the original family, with a garden overflowing with the most fanciful tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries,  showing cats doing all kinds of comical things, sometimes with monkeys. I still haven’t gotten any satisfactory answer about what the “iconography” was meant to impart, but they are just so delightful one doesn’t really care–and perhaps that’s the point of them.

Lisbon’s cultural pride and joy is the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum of Art, an absolutely splendid collection of artworks, both Western and Middle Eastern. But there were other cats in other museums in the city, too, and carved lions everywhere.


Finally, the university town of Coimbra offered delightful renditions on the side of its lovely Cathedral. In all, the cats of Lisbon were, like the city and the country itself, dignified and fanciful at the same time.



Oddly, we saw no street cats in Poblenou, the section of Barcelona where we stayed, although others told us that Spain–perhaps in other cities–was overrun with ferals. We did get to meet Annie Graul’s cats, and I assume other Spaniards have house cats, too.


Cats in paintings were rather thin on the ground as well, but oh, those lions in the Romanesque sculptures!  Not only in Barcelona, but in Girona as well.

Before entering into true cat land–Greece!–I think I will pause here, and continue with our feline meanderings in the next entry.  You get the idea, though! Taking images of cats kept me occupied and involved–kind of like Pokemon Go, I guess–and now I have to do something creative with all of them!

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