Women and Cats in Art

There is a strong link between women, girls and cats. In fiction, for instance, women are frequently described as cats (and also as birds).

Then there’s the witch link between women and cats, who are thought to be witches’ familiars. During the witch craze, a small proportion of men were also tried for witchcraft, but the modern witch archetype is an old woman who sometimes transmogrifies into a beautiful young woman in order to trick men or to test them.

Nine lives: Cats are said to have nine lives, and women ten cats lives.

from a 1703 dictionary of slang

Then there’s the modern dismissive archetype of the ‘crazy cat lady’, for which there is no male counterpart.

Below are some artworks celebrating the relationship between women, girls and their cats.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960)
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960)
Lois Lenski, Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been,Jolly Rhymes of Mother Goose, Platt & Munk, 1922
Lois Lenski, Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been,Jolly Rhymes of Mother Goose, Platt & Munk, 1922
We Have Always Lived In The Castle girl with cat
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Dentist's Cook, 1922 by Peggy Bacon (1895-1967)
The Dentist’s Cook, 1922 by Peggy Bacon (1895-1967)
Edward Gorey
Edward Gorey
Traditional costume from the island of Schokland in Overijssel, 1857, Ruurt de Vries, after Jan Braet von Uberfeldt, after Valentijn Bing, 1857
Traditional costume from the island of Schokland in Overijssel, 1857, Ruurt de Vries, after Jan Braet von Uberfeldt, after Valentijn Bing, 1857
Jenny Nyström, painting, illustrator
Jenny Nyström, painting, illustrator
Vladimir Suteev (1900-1993), Russian writer and illustrator 1952
Vladimir Suteev (1900-1993), Russian writer and illustrator 1952
Edward Penfield (1866-1925), American cartoonist and illustrator considered the father of the American poster. Cover of Harper's Magazine, 1896
Edward Penfield (1866-1925), American cartoonist and illustrator considered the father of the American poster. Cover of Harper’s Magazine, 1896
'My Lady's Chamber' by Walter Crane 1900 The frontispiece for The Baby's Bouquet cat
‘My Lady’s Chamber’ by Walter Crane 1900 The frontispiece for The Baby’s Bouquet cat
Illustrations by Anne Anderson, for Rosie-Posie book. First published in 1911 by Thomas Nelson & Sons, London
Illustrations by Anne Anderson, for Rosie-Posie book. First published in 1911 by Thomas Nelson & Sons, London
Ruskin Spear
Ruskin Spear
Marc Simont (1915-2013 from Nate the Great Goes Undercover by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (1974)
'The Yellow Cat' By Mary Grigs, Illustrated By Isobel and John Morton Sale (Humphrey Milford, Oxford UP, London, New York, Toronto 1936 - this edition 1946
‘The Yellow Cat’ By Mary Grigs, Illustrated By Isobel and John Morton Sale (Humphrey Milford, Oxford UP, London, New York, Toronto 1936 – this edition 1946
Me and My Pussies Tall Ag-Rip-Pá, 1927, Honor C. Appleton; 1879-1951 He had come back to find me
Me and My Pussies Tall Ag-Rip-Pá, 1927, Honor C. Appleton; 1879-1951 He had come back to find me
Irene Haas, illustration from A little House of Your Own, 1954
Irene Haas, illustration from A little House of Your Own, 1954
The Best Of Fred by Rupert Fawcett, Headline Book Publishing, London 1998
The Best Of Fred by Rupert Fawcett, Headline Book Publishing, London 1998
Adrej Belle
Adrej Belle
1938 Valentines Day comic. Boarding house jokes were rife in Britain around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, owing to comedians in the music halls. The same kind of humour persisted with the seaside landlady jokes well into mid-20th century, making fun of the dreadful conditions the holidaymakers were expected to put up with.
The-Witch-Illustrated-by-John-Maler-Collier-1893
The Witch Illustrated by John Maler Collier 1893
Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862 - 1927) The Capture, 1924. Pencil, watercolour and gouache
Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862 – 1927) The Capture, 1924. Pencil, watercolour and gouache
Adrienne Ségur (1901-1981), French children's book illustrator. My Big Book of Cat Stories, 1967
Adrienne Ségur (1901-1981), French children’s book illustrator. My Big Book of Cat Stories, 1967
Paul Binnie Elise's Cat 1967
Paul Binnie, Elise’s Cat, 1967
Wanda Gág (1893-1946) with her cat (creator of Millions Of Cats)
Wanda Gág (1893-1946) with her cat (creator of Millions Of Cats)
Yelena Brysenkova
Yelena Brysenkova
Adriaan Bontebal, dichter
Adriaan Bontebal, dichter
Carl Larsson, kunstenaar, brita, en katt och en smorgas, Brita, A Cat and a Sandwich
Carl Larsson, kunstenaar, brita, en katt och en smorgas, Brita, A Cat and a Sandwich
Suzanne Valadon (1865 - 1938) Woman with Cat
Suzanne Valadon (1865 – 1938) Woman with Cat
Tadahiro Uesugi
Tadahiro Uesugi
Ernesto Garcia Cabral (Mexico, 1890-1968)
Ernesto Garcia Cabral (Mexico, 1890-1968)
Alberto Morrocco – Breakfast
William Henry Gore - Teasing the Cat
William Henry Gore – Teasing the Cat
Japanese, 1927
Japanese, 1927
1923 illustration by Chéri Hérouard for La Vie Parisienne magazine
1923 illustration by Chéri Hérouard for La Vie Parisienne magazine. See also my collection of Unappealing Cats.
Rafael de Penagos, illustration for the perfumery Floralia (also reproduced on the cover of La Esfera, 1926) girl cat
Rafael de Penagos, illustration for the perfumery Floralia (also reproduced on the cover of La Esfera, 1926)

Witches And Their Cats

Norman Mills Price (Canadian American, 1877-1951) Halloween 1928
Norman Mills Price (Canadian American, 1877-1951) Halloween 1928
Frances Brundage (1854-1937)
Frances Brundage (1854-1937) for a Halloween postcard
Illustration of poem ′Ye True Story of Granny Greene of Salem Towne′ by Howard Pyle
A Busy Day For The Old Witch
Midnight Neath The Witches Tree Who Dares Keep Halloween With Me

The Bogey-Beast

This tale, perhaps the ultimate story about a woman and her ‘cat’, can be found in Pook Press English Fairy Tales, written and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. There are clear connections to tales of the Djinn (genies) who are thought to be stored inside containers until disturbed.

THERE was once a woman who was very, very cheerful, though she had little to make her so; for she was old, and poor, and lonely. She lived in a little bit of a cottage and earned a scant living by running errands for her neighbours, getting a bite here, a sup there, as reward for her services.

So she made shift to get on, and always looked as spry and cheery as if she had not a want in the world.Now one summer evening, as she was trotting, full of smiles as ever, along the high road to her hovel, what should she see but a big black pot lying in the ditch!

“Goodness me!” she cried, “that would be just the very thing for me if I only had something to put in it! But I haven’t! Now who could have left it in the ditch?”And she looked about her expecting the owner would not be far off; but she could see nobody.“Maybe there is a hole in it,” she went on, “and that’s why it has been cast away. But it would do fine to put a flower in for my window; so I’ll just take it home with me.”

And with that she lifted the lid and looked inside. “Mercy me!” she cried, fair amazed. “If it isn’t full of gold pieces. Here’s luck!”

And so it was, brimful of great gold coins. Well, at first she simply stood stock-still, wondering if she was standing on her head or her heels. Then she began saying:“Lawks! But I do feel rich. I feel awful rich!”

After she had said this many times, she began to wonder how she was to get her treasure home. It was too heavy for her to carry, and she could see no better way than to tie the end of her shawl to it and drag it behind her like a go-cart.

“It will soon be dark,” she said to herself as she trotted along. “So much the better! The neighbours will not see what I’m bringing home, and I shall have all the night to myself, and be able to think what I’ll do! Mayhap I’ll buy a grand house and just sit by the fire with a cup o’ tea and do no work at all like a queen. Or maybe I’ll bury it at the garden-foot and just keep a bit in the old china teapot on the chimney-piece. Or maybe—Goody! Goody! I feel that grand I don’t know myself.”

By this time she was a bit tired of dragging such a heavy weight, and, stopping to rest a while, turned to look at her treasure.And lo! it wasn’t a pot of gold at all! It was nothing but a lump of silver.

She stared at it and rubbed her eyes and stared at it again.“Well! I never,” she said at last. “And me thinking it was a pot of gold! I must have been dreaming. But this is luck! Silver is far less trouble—easier to mind, and not so easy stolen. Them gold pieces would have been the death o’ me, and with this great lump of silver—”

So she went off again planning what she would do, and feeling as rich as rich, until becoming a bit tired again she stopped to rest and gave a look round to see if her treasure was safe; and she saw nothing but a great lump of iron!

“Well! I never!” says she again. “And I mistaking it for silver! I must have been dreaming. But this is luck! It’s real convenient. I can get penny pieces for old iron, and penny pieces are a deal handier for me than your gold and silver. Why! I should never have slept a wink for fear of being robbed. But a penny piece comes in useful, and I shall sell that iron for a lot and be real rich—rolling rich.”

So on she trotted full of plans as to how she would spend her penny pieces, till once more she stopped to rest and looked round to see if her treasure was safe. And this time she saw nothing but a big stone.“Well! I never!” she cried, full of smiles. “And to think I mistook it for iron. I must have been dreaming. But here’s luck indeed, and me wanting a stone terrible bad to stick open the gate. Eh my! but it’s a change for the better! It’s a fine thing to have good luck.”

So, all in a hurry to see how the stone would keep the gate open she trotted off down the hill till she came to her own cottage. She unlatched the gate and then turned to unfasten her shawl from the stone which lay on the path behind her. Aye! it was a stone sure enough. There was plenty light to see it lying there, douce and peaceable as a stone should.

So she bent over it to unfasten the shawl end, when—“Oh my!”All of a sudden it gave a jump, a squeal, and in one moment was as big as a haystack. Then it let down four great lanky legs and threw out two long ears, flourished a great long tail and romped off, kicking and squealing and whinnying and laughing like a naughty mischievous boy!

The old woman stared after it till it was fairly out of sight, then she burst out laughing too.“Well!” she chuckled, “I am in luck! Quite the luckiest body hereabouts. Fancy my seeing the Bogey-Beast all to myself; and making myself so free with it too! My goodness! I do feel that uplifted—that GRAND!”—So she went into her cottage and spent the evening chuckling over her good luck.

SEE ALSO

Kiki’s Delivery Service, a film by Hayao Miyazaki

Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG