Women and cats are closely bonded in art, so says Russian ANDREI ABRAMOV, director of the Moscow Cat Museum. Here he shares his view on feline and feminine influences in art.
Millions of people in Russia, as all over the world, love and appreciate cats. They keep them with pleasure at home and are interested in everything concerning them. The cat is a favourite pet, but apart from that, cats have their own very interesting story and have left their mark in culture and the arts.
Throughout history, many artists have painted cats, or at least included a cat theme in their creative endeavours. Indeed, the first cat drawings and sculptures came from very ancient times.
As far back as 12,000BC, cats were painted on the walls in the now-famous cave paintings of Lascaux, France. In more recent times, figurines unearthed in Turkey near the village of Hutsilak, dating from 6BC, show a woman playing with cats.
A feline mystery
What is it about cats that attracts the creative genius of artists? Some say it is the cat's independence, its sense of freedom, its graceful, physical perfection. Some even talk of the cat's magical powers. But no matter what the draw, the creative artist has always felt compelled to try to reveal the cat's essence, to give his own interpretation of this wonderful creature's image.
The list of great artists who devoted attention includes the best: Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Rubens, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Mark Chagall, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Klee - the list goes on and on.
Some artists, such as "cat-Raffaello" Swiss artist Gottfried Mind, Louis Wain and Henrietta Ronner, used cats as the focus of their work.
To compliment this rich collection, new generations of artists are adding their own interpretations. The cat truly has found its place of honour in the history of art.
In May and June of 1992, CAT'S EYE - an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Russian artists - went on show.
While gathering exhibits, staff at Inter Gallery were delighted to find that there were more artists working with cats than thought originally. Works submitted reflected many different styles. They included sculptures and ceramics and we were delighted that there were no patterns or cliches of the cat's images.
The cat is an interesting object for the creative person - each person sees and understands this mysterious creature differently. As a result, each unique work presents the unexpected and surprising.
You could say that every artists has his or her own image of the cat, and this was the very piquancy of the exhibition.
The exhibition was a great success. The attention of the media, the large number of visitors and the excellent reviews set us thinking about continuing the Cat Theme.
The result - the Moscow Cat Museum was opened in March 1993, the first such museum in Russia. Its collection includes paintings, graphics, sculptures, ceramics, batik, tapestry, dolls, collages, all showing the cat through the eyes of the artist.
There are also books, photographs, souvenirs, movies, cartoons, toys and postcards, in short, every imaginable item depicting cats. At present, the museum has more than 1,500 large-sized works of art, and the collection is ever increasing.
When it comes to selecting an exhibit, we look at not how popular the artist is, but how successfully he revealed the theme of the cat. These works are of great interest for art and cat lovers alike who like to see the cat from different points of views. You could say the works attempt to answer what is the cat and what is the essence of its attraction and charm.
Of women, cats and beauty contests
A highlight of the museum is the exhibition Women and Cats, which depicts their relationship. Their 'union' has existed from time immemorial. The cat - graceful, elegant, intelligent, independent, its undoubted beauty - with these qualities and more, no wonder it is the friend and companion of woman.
The friendship between the two goes back through the pages of history, back to ancient Egypt, the dark period of the witch hunts and to contemporary society.
In art the two themes, women and cats, often go together.
Leonardo made the cat sacred in 'Madonna with a Cat', while Renoir emphasized femininity and romance, yet by contrast, others highlighted the darker side, including witchcraft.
Works in the exhibition show this magical union, again, through the eyes of the artist. They capture the mystery and sometimes amaze the viewer with their unexpected refraction of perception.
Perhaps ironically, the exhibition led to an annual beauty contest which aims to find a woman and cat pair as winners, judged on their gracefulness and harmony together. Last year, at the UK's National Cat Show in London representatives of the museum awarded a special prize to Nadine Bensley and her cat Dudley.
Apart from its exhibitions, the museum also conducts auctions, organizes sales of cat art, song contests, a film festival, modern ballet and theatre shows and holds an annual contest of children's pictures of cats. This last event attracts great publicity as children from over Russia compete to draw their cat. The best works are then displayed in the museum.
Looking abroad, the Moscow Cat Museum takes part in international cat shows and has a traveling exhibition. Look out for us when we will again be at this year's National Cat Show at Olympia on December 6. A great opportunity to get a taste for Russian cats and art.
The cat can truly be said to be an ambassador of peace.
It unites people from countries on the basis of love and interest in this wonderful creature.