Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Words are ghosts that will come back to haunt you, or so I quickly learned after I had been interviewed by a reporter with the BBC. She had been referred to me from a friend, who had declined the interview, and prior to sitting down with the tape recorder, we chatted seemingly aimlessly, developing a good rapport with each other. To my surprise, when the actual interview was conducted on tape, the reporter introduced a topic we had spoken about earlier; this took me off-guard especially as I didn’t want to share my answer with the world at large. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, as both “rapport” and “report” share a Latin etymological root meaning “to bring or carry back.”

I recalled this exceptionally educational and embarrassing experience when I read an essay in the New York Time’s Sunday Book Review. The paragraph that triggered my memory follows:

“ Mark Haddon, who wrote numerous novels for children before The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, said in an e-mail message that he recalled 'a number of people looking down their noses at me when I explained what I did for a living, as if I painted watercolors of cats or performed as a clown at parties.' "

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I have never read a single book by Mark Haddon, yet I question his ability to choose words wisely when writing. Perhaps he felt an email gave him the luxury to sling words fast and furious, without any thought of the import or meaning behind them. I suspect his comments referencing artists who paint watercolors of animals, cats in particular, are words that may come back to haunt him. Why? The art history chronicles are filled with the names and works of esteemed artists who have painted cats, both in watercolor and in other mediums, so perhaps Mr. Haddon might want to re-think his analogy.

One of the treasures in the British Museum is by a no lesser-talented artist than Leonardo Da Vinci included a drawing of a cat sitting with the Christ Child on the lap of the Madonna in his Virgin and Child with Cat . (AD 1478-81) Unfortunately, no painting of this study has survived or been subsequently discovered, although Rembrandt later was inspired to create an etching also entitled Virgin and Child with a Cat. (1654).

Other artists, such as Matisse, Goya, and Manet painted cats using their own particular style to capture the essence of the animal. Henri Matisse’s Girl with A Black Cat, was completed in 1910, and is presently in private collection.

Even Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pablo Picasso shared an affection for cats, as evidenced by the number of paintings and drawings both artists created that included felines. Similarly, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, the esteemed Swiss illustrator and collaborator of Emile Zola and Toulouse-Lautrec, is noted for his highly collectible paintings, posters and sculptures of cats.

One of my favorite paintings by Pierre Bonnard , a member of Les Nabis, can be found in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Characteristic of his colorful narrative paintings of interiors, the cat’s presence acts as an animated distinction to the immobility and calmness of his wife, Marthe.

Recently I discovered the work of the Key West Artist, Bill Borough whose website is . His realistic watercolor paintings focus on the buildings found in Key West, including Audubon House, the home of John James Audubon, the world-renown ornithologist, and at the house located at 1431 Duncan Street, generally known as Tennessee Williams' House. More relevant, however, to this discussion, Bill Borough has skillfully captured one of the felines lurking at the lovely Spanish Colonial house previously owned by Ernest Hemingway.

True diplomacy, like great art, involves having the sense to know how to express ideas succinctly and to restrain from the tendency to speak without knowledge of one’s subject, always opting to remain silent, when appropriate. Therefore, like a cat, I’ll now opt to remain silent and hope that the next time a writer addresses a wider audience, words are chosen wisely instead of in dismissive haste.


Unguided said...

Come to think of it, although I know the pictures one by one, I, too, like Haddon missed the "Feline Connection." Some would say I am text oriented, but no, I possibly focus on other things in a painting. I would have been more careful than Haddon, though. Great assembly of pictures, thanks.

Pam Hawk said...

Well put.
As I was reading this and got to the part with his comment, I immediately thought, "What's wrong with paintings of cats?" and I imagined Le Chat Noir. Then I saw your collection of paintings created by some guys who 'dabbled in paint' so to speak, and nodded in agreement.

Funny, I thought one of the nice things about email/written communication vs verbal communication was that you had the time to carefully choose your words.

Cats said...

Hi there,

Thanks for dropping by on my cats blog ~ you've got a wonderful blog too and I especially enjoyed this fascinating review of cats in art ~ I love that Picasso painting..the first one in your amazes me since as we know cats are seldom stationary and the pose that he's outlined - the cat stays in that position for only a fraction of a second as it stretches out momentarily after waking up from a nap - and yet Picasso had drawn it so neatly without a model..

You've got a wonderful blog, though you might wanna consider limiting the posts that show up on your blog's front page (in blog settings)to between one to three since you write big atricles with pictures and considering the fact that a lot of people around the world still use dial-up internet - it may mean the slow loading of your site for them - particularly for entrecard users who just wanna drop and run ;)

I like the nice and clean layout and overall look of your blog ~ keep up the great work :)

Marie said...

I love art but I'm not very good with remembering the artist's name or their paintings...something I need to work on. Generally, I just go by my gut instinct as soon as I look at the painting, if grabs my attention and it moves me in some way then I really end up liking it.

You have a great site and you seem to have a great deal of knowledge in this area, keep up the good work.

Kim said...

a very interesting article Sharon..
I wonder if Mark Haddon's ears are burning :)
the cat by Picasso is brevity personified.....

Janet Campbell said...

Very interesting blog! Enjoyable read & great photos. I'll be back for more. Thanks for the comments on my blog regarding my LP art. It is acrylic then varnished. I was invited by a gallery in NY to submit my art on an LP for a show in October which got me started, however, I had seen it done before. Not sure how many others are melting it like I am, I haven't really seen that before. I know they easily melt so I gave it a whirl!
God Bless

PurrPrints said...

wow--thanks so much for your defense of cat art--i had someone looking down their nose at me when they saw my business card and realized that's what i did--not that i'm comparing myself with likes of picasso, mind you! :)