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11 Works of Art Featuring Felines

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Russian artist Svetlana Petrova routinely adds a twist to classic paintings by including her orange tabby, Zarathustra. But felines are no strangers to fine art. Here are just a few of the many pieces that feature cats.

1. Lobster and Cat, Picasso

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Bequest, Hilde Thannhauser 91.3916 © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“I want to create a cat like the real cats I see crossing the street, not like those you see in houses,” Picasso once said. “They have nothing in common. The cat of the street has bristling fur. It runs like a fiend, and if it looks at you, you think it is going to jump in your face.” The artist, who put cats in a number of his paintings, definitely captured that feel in 1965's “Lobster and Cat,” which depicts a black cat arching its back, hissing a bright blue lobster. The work may have been inspired by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s 1728 painting The Ray, in which a cat hisses at a sting ray hanging in a kitchen.

2. Woman With a Cat, Fernand Léger

This French artist—who painted, sculpted, and made films—painted a number of featureless, monochromatic nude women in his “mechanica” period, which lasted from 1918 to 1923. “Woman with a Cat” came in 1921.

3. Kittens Playing on a Desk, Alfred-Arthur Brunel de Neuville

This 19th century French artist was famous for his portraits that displayed the many moods of domestic cats. He painted them playing, ogling snails and fish, hanging out with rabbits and dogs, drinking milk from a dish, and otherwise getting into mischief. Brunel de Nueville’s work was quite popular in his lifetime; put a computer in Kittens Playing on a Desk, and it might just look like a scene in a cat lover’s home office today.

4. Young Ballerina Holding a Black Cat, Pierre Carrier-Belleuse

Edgar Degas wasn’t the only French painter to tackle ballerinas. Carrier-Belleuse did it too, and in some of his paintings, he included a cute little black cat. Young Ballerina Holding a Black Cat was painted in 1895.

5. Louis Wain



Wain, an English artist, was inspired to draw cats after he and his wife, Emily—who was sick with breast cancer—adopted a stray kitten they named Peter, who greatly comforted his wife during her illness. Wain created many sketches of the cat, and his wife encouraged him to try to sell them (which wouldn’t happen until 1886, after Emily had died). “To him, properly,” Wain said of Peter, “belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work." Wain became known for his anthropomorphic cats, and then, after he was committed to a mental institution in 1924, for his brightly colored psychedelic cats like the one above.

6. Cat Sleeping on a Bed, Claude Monet

Better known for his water lilies and haystacks, Impressionist Claude Monet made this pastel drawing of a cat enjoying a snooze in the mid- to late-1860s.

7. Sarah Holding a Cat, Mary Cassatt

This painting, circa 1907 or 1908, sold at auction for more than $2.5 million in 2012. According to Christies, which sold the piece, Cassat created the painting “during her final, and most serious, exploration of the theme of the single child. … [It] also touches on another leitmotif of Cassatt's career, maternity. In the present work, the young girl imitates a mother's affectionate hold of an infant in her gentle, caring embrace of the kitten and there is an affected maturity in her gaze that captures the concept of ‘playing mother.'” Sarah was the granddaughter of Emile Loubet, a former president of France.

8. Woman with a Cat, Edouard Manet

The most famous cat Manet painted appeared next to a naked prostitude in his controversial Olympia, but there was another cat that he drew many times: the family feline, Zizi. In Woman with a Cat (circa 1880), he put Zizi on the lap of his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff. The painting hung in Manet’s apartment, and was once owned by Degas.

9. The Boy with the Cat, Pierre Auguste Renoir

Renoir was another painted who frequently portrayed cats; he painted this piece, featuring an anonymous nude male model, in 1868.

10. Le chat blanc, Pierre Bonnard

This painting, circa 1894, is a distorted view of a cat arching its back. According to the Musee d’Orsay, Bonnard spent a long time deciding on the position of the cat, and also made a number of changes that are revealed both by x-ray and by a close examination of the painting.

11. Madonna and Child with a Cat, Leonardo da Vinci

This literal Renaissance man once said that “the smallest feline is a masterpiece.” He sketched cats in many positions, and included one who is eager to escape in this drawing.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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