Cats rule the Internet. Pictures of our cats become memes and Photoshoped into famous works of art. Once you add social media to the mix, our cats become downright supreme emperors: we’re constantly sharing cat pictures, filling our phones and then our Instagram feeds and more with dozens of adorable, goofy, gorgeous, silly shots of cats, cats, cats.
But is this really new behavior? Our compulsive need to capture cats, and to surround ourselves with their Royal Fluffiness? Nope! This is actually not new for us!
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Our Obsession With Cat Pictures Is Nothing New
Cats show up in art across the ages in many cultures, of course, though pre-18th century art with cats generally showed them as divine or metaphorical. Cat-focal art – where the focus of the painting is the literal cat – began booming in the 19th century. Cat paintings were an easily affordable and entertaining decoration for many households, and so animal painters popped up all over the place during this time period. Some artists became so synonymous with painting cats that they scored nicknames – like Arthur Heyer became Cat Heyer, and Wilson Hepple became known as the Cat Man. (Okay, so they weren’t creative nicknames.)
Early Cat Pictures
The Great Cat has excellent coverage of the cat in art, and you can find a super-long list of these 19th century artists at their site. So super-long. (Still, it’s got nothing on the millions of cat pics found across the Internet today!) You should browse through it sometime, but for now we’re sharing a few of our favorite painters.
Jean Bernard was a Dutch painter and inveterate cat lover – most of his drawings of cats are detailed sketches in charcoal and crayon. We don’t really have any biographical information on him, but his admiration for cats is on full display in the dozens of cat illustrations he created. Many of the poses and expressions he drew are so familiar to us cat-lovers that we just know Jean Bernard was a member of our exclusive club – and drew his precious kitties from real life examples! Haven’t we all seen our cats loafing just so, as in Bernard’s sketch Cat and Bowl (1812)?
Henriëtte Ronner-Knip was also a Dutch painter – the Dutch just apparently love cats, okay? Even though her cat painting are well-known, she didn’t actually start painting them until the last decades of her life – which still left plenty of time for her to build a glass front onto her studio just so she could watch her cats more easily. Her paintings are highly textured from her impressive brushwork, and she was a master at capturing spirited feline expressions!
Just look at that Mama Cat’s face in A Little Kitten (1896) – she is so over nursing, you don’t even know. And the activity in Cats and Kittens Playing by the Warmth of the Fire easily compares to any number of group kitten shots today!
JULIUS ADAM II
Julius Adam II was a German painter, and one of those with a creative nickname, Katzen Adam, with Katzen being German for cat. He spent some time painting landscapes before becoming successful with cat paintings. (Never doubt there’s money in cats, my friends.) His paintings are especially great at capturing the joy of cats along with the impression of floof. He even did the 20th century version of a selfie, when he painted the self-portrait Entre Nous (1911).
I know that feeling, Katzen Adam.
Speaking of selfies, I want to share one last piece of art with you! This one was done by Charles Burton Barber, an English artist who created the most lush and adorable paintings. He just didn’t paint many of them! However, his 1883 composition, Coaxing is Better than Teasing looks just like the perfect set-up for a modern-day selfie.
So, you see, our obsession with cat pictures is absolutely nothing new – people have been doing it for centuries. Don’t forget to check out The Great Cat linked above for even more paintings – and hit the comments with us to share your favorites!