11 Works of Art Featuring Felines

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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August 11, 2014 - 5:11pm
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