Cat paintings have been amazing humanity throughout time.
Cats are the best. A perfect balance of intrigue, cuteness, and just the right amount of evil. They're so fun and loving that people have been completely captivated by them, to the point that throughout art history, these adorable felines have made repetitive appearances in various paintings. Nowadays, cats are everywhere in the visual world. We've all seen at least one cat video on YouTube, a funny and cute meme, or a friend’s Instagram picture. Their charm is so intense that we feel inspired by them. They us help create and it has been this way for a long time. Here are some of the best examples of how cats have been art's greatest muse.
Egyptians thought of cats as sacred, to the point that these animals were domesticated by society long before than dogs. The first primary feline god was Mafdet, a female deity who goes back as far as the First Dynasty of Egypt between 3,400 BC and 3000 BC. She was considered a valuable token for protection against venom and poison (because cats have always been hunters of snakes and scorpions). Because of this, they were depicted in various artistic representations. We can find them in carvings, papyrus paintings, and, most notably, tomb decorations.
In China, the goddess Li Shou was depicted as a cat. It was believed that this particular deity blessed their community for pest control and fertility. An ancient Chinese myth says that, when the world was created, the gods chose cats to take care of their new creation. Cats, however, were more interested in sleeping and playing than in the boring task of being responsible for the operation of the world. The feline deities told the gods they had no interest in running the world, and nominated human beings for this task. That's why, back in the day, Chinese art included catS doing everyday cat things such as exploring their surroundings and having a nap wherever they like doing so.
We all know famous image of the "Beckoning Cat" (the maneki neko figure of the cat with one raised paw). What you may not know is that it represents the goddess of mercy. Legend has it that a cat, sitting outside of the temple of Gotoku-ji, raised her paw in acknowledgement of the emperor who was passing by. Captivated by the cute feline's gesture, the emperor entered the temple and, suddenly a lightning struck the spot where he had been standing. As he felt it, the cat saved his life and was later granted with great honors and considered a respectable living soul. This is why the "Beckoning Cat" image is thought to bring good luck even nowadays. Because of these kinds of stories, Japanese woodblock prints, called Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), often feature miscellaneous cat icons.
Fin de siècle French posters
The use of cats in "Fin de siècle" (end of century) art has a very gloomy backstory. During the early 1800s, felines were associated with witchcraft and demonic symbolism of pure evil. Because of this, people organized huge massacres to get rid of them, in order to free themselves from dark magic and bad luck. Later on, when this unpleasant tradition was put to an end, many artists started to take inspiration from the black cats that everybody feared. This is why french “fin de siècle” posters also often featured these furry subjects. From cabaret flyers to tea advertisements, cats frequently appeared in these colorful designs.
Fauvism and cats
During the twentieth century, the modern art forms that were slowly emerging showed cats in recurrent occasions. Mostly because artists related with the solitude and tranquility of cats while they created pieces of art. Take Henri Matisse for example. He was known for having a lovely relationship with his furry muse, a little black cat that kept him company during his creative process. Naturally, this lead to beautiful and colorful paintings with leading felines on them.
Girl with A Black Cat, 1910
Le Chat Aux Poissons Rouges, 1914
As new art techniques were developed, artists explored their creative limits through everyday sightings. And sure enough, curious cats that meddle in between the painter's process ended up appearing once more in a variety of artworks. One clear example of experimental artworks are the mesmerizing ink paints of Endre Penovác, a Serbian artist who was discovering the beauty behind black ink and how it worked on plain paper. The results appeared to be a perfect fit for painting cats; the ink itself spread in such a natural way that Endre's work can make everyone feel the softness of their fur and their distinguishing fluffiness.
“Ink” by Endre Penovác, 2015
“Ink” by Endre Penovác, 2015
The evident popularity of cats among artists has reached our days and it’s no surprise that today's creators feel inspired by feline friends. The limitless options of the digital era have brought eclectic depictions of cats in diverse formats. They have been constantly considered ideal for lonely people who would rather not spend too much time playing ball with a pet, but also want that warm companionship. Many digital artists spend a lot of time behind computers, and cats have proven to be a nice fit for their lifestyle. Spending so much time with them have brought to life the funniest and most relatable imagery for people that love felines.
Pusheen by Claire Belton y Andrew Duff, 2010
Grumpy cat, Unknown
Art has taught us that cats are the are the ideal source of inspiration. They are amazing pets, are cute as they can be, have a very witty personality, and won’t care about looking too puffy on canvas. They actually don’t care about too many things in life. Nevertheless, they never cease to be lovable and fun.
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