Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora

by Michael
(London, UK)

Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora. This is a painting of a white Angora cat with a lady and in the centre is a large mirrored globe. The globe reflects the cat and other people in the room who are not directly in the painting (see the second enlarged image). It was painted in the 1780s. Jean-Honoré Fragonard lived from 5 April 1732 to 22 August 1806. The painting originally formed part of a pendant with a painting of a dog, a spaniel. It is the cat that interests me and why I am writing about the painting.

Le Chat Angora Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora

Le Chat Angora Jean-Honoré Fragonard 1

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a talented Frenchman who painted in the late Rococo style; one that is decorative and ornate. It is considered art but it almost seems to be a form of commercial art rather than true art.

The subject matter is a very artificial situation. An incongruous mix of an attractive women dressed to the nines (well dressed), a large mirrored ball and a white cat that looks like a teddy bear who is waving. Mr Fragonard liked cats, reflective surfaces and attractive ladies and he threw them together to make a decorative picture! I agree I am being a bit unkind in saying that.

The Angora cat’s position is one that would be fleeting in real life. This must have been painted from memory by Mr Fragonard. It is probable that the cat was his companion and that in playing with the cat he had memorized this piece of frozen play action. This is because this cat featured in more than one of his paintings. A that time photography existed but exposure times were very long and it was impossible to capture action to aid artists.

The Angora cat is well known but I find its history confusing. Essentially, the term was used to describe a long haired cat of the era, which was a good 100 years before the creation of the cat show and cat fancy. Domestic cats were abundant then, but there were no formal purebred cats. People lived with moggies.

The Angora at that time, however, was a glamorous looking cat with long hair (but shorter than the long hair of today) and possibly the precursor of the now well known Persian cat. The term “Angora cat” could also describe the Turkish Angora and at that time the Turkish Angora was not, I would say, the rather elegant refined show cat it is today but a normal looking cat with long hair from Turkey. At that time the Persian cat when it came about was a modified Angora with curlier hair, it seems. It is a little confusing, the use of terminology, I mean. I discuss the Angora cat in some detail on this page: Angora Cat.

Modern Ultra persian cat The modern Persian (see picture right) is very far removed from the Angora cat in this painting. The contemporary Persian in America has very long straight hair (the hair of the cat in the painting is curly and shorter) and the face flattened through years of deliberate breeding creating an unnatural appearance. The Angora cat in this painting looks somewhat like the Selkirk Rex, I’d say. Or a slightly curly coated doll faced Persian (traditional Persian cat). Also see please: Yeri Traditional Persian Cat (he is white too)

To recap, as I understand it, at the time this painting was made the term “Angora cat” simply described a long haired cat and white seemed to have been the favourite colour as Angora cats at that time were frequently (or exclusively?) white (see cat coats white). This might imply that people were breeding cats at the time despite being well before the cat fancy.

The cat in Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora, is given a central role when most often at this time cats were on the sidelines decorating the picture.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora – Photos: The picture of the painting is in the public domain as copyright has expired.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora – Sources:

  • Wikipedia
  • Wikimedia
  • PoC
  • colnaghi.co.uk

From Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora to Cats in Paintings

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora

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Nov 24, 2009 whoa
by: Anonymous My cat looks exactly like the turkish van on the right, the same colors and hair length and face and everything
she is so pretty

Oct 06, 2009 Turkish Van Old and New?
by: Michael Here is a comparison with the cat with the lady and a modern Turkish Van:

comparison between a modern Turkish Van ca and one from the 1700s possibly

I don’t know if the 1780s cat is a Turkish Van but it sure looks like one. But the first importation into Europe was meant to be into England in 1955! The picture was painted in Paris in about 1780.

OK, the way the cat looks is a very vague test but it seems possible that the Van, an ancient cat breed, could have been imported much earlier into France with the Turkish Angora and perhaps there is an overlap here between the Angora and Van (at that time).


Oct 05, 2009 Marguerite Gérard – La dame avec son chat
by: Finn Frode, Denmark What a wonderful painting. I don’t know much about art and so I’ve never heard of Marguerite Gérard. Wikipedia only features a very brief piece about her, but I found a more detailed at http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=Marguerite%20G%E9rard.

She did indeed have cats in many of her paintings. “The Cat’s Lunch” features a very big cat without ears – or maybe they’re just flattened? “Motherhood” shows two cats and a boy playing with them using a cat tease. “The Breastfeeding Mother” shows another white angora, I think, and in “The Contented Family” it’s a tuxedo moggie. I found these in just ten minutes and there are probably more.

I much prefer Gérard’s paintings to those of her brother-in-law Fragonard, but that has probably more to do with her not so much belonging to “l’ancien regime”, but more to the early 19th century. Actually some of her paintings look quite modern to me.


Oct 05, 2009 The missing link
by: Michael KIT, you provided the missing link for me. At last I fully understand the Angora cat! Thanks a lot for taking the time to explain it.

KIT, I’d like you to explain this cat’s appearance if you can find time. Is this cat the old and original version of the Turkish Angora (meaning less “refined” or less slender) or might it be an original Turkish Van judging by its markings? It is a painting from the same era:

La dame avec son chat - Painted by Marguerite Gérard who worked with and who was the sister in law of Jean-Honoré Fragonard
“La dame avec son chat” – Painted by Marguerite Gérard who worked with and who was the sister in law of Jean-Honoré Fragonard.


Oct 04, 2009 The confusing history of the Angora
by: KIT The Angora cat gets its name from the old walled city of Ulus, on the elevated part of the city of Angora – now called Ankara. This breed of cat came from Turkey to Europe during the Crusades, and there are written records of Angoras in France from the year 1600.

They were the cats of royalty. In the 18th century, Louis XV as well as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were great lovers of this ethereal breed. Many paintings from this period show Angoras in various colors. Black, tortoiseshell, red, etc.

In the 19th century many Angoras were imported from France to the USA. Some were white but they also came in a variety of beautiful shades.

However, these early imports were not kept pure. The breed became mixed with the Persian, and the last pure Angora was exhibited in 1901. Modern day cat fanciers re-imported the breed from Turkey in 1962, and added the word “Turkish” to the breed name to denote that the breed descended from the Turkish cats.

I doubt that Jean-Honore Fragonard Le Chat had to invent or combine anything for this painting!


Oct 02, 2009 Children may have founded cat breeding
by: Finn Frode, Denmark It probably did start much earlier. Now if a cat in an ancient village had a litter and one of the kittens stood out from the others in some way (colour, pattern, fur or whatever), most likely it would be given extra attention and have a much better chance of surviving. Various regions would have had different preferrences and little by little different breeds would evolve. And this kind of selection could even have been done by children, who simply picked the “cutest” kittens for themselves to keep. Kids do that kind of things… 😉

Oct 02, 2009 Thanks Finn
by: Michael Thanks Finn. I am beginning to think that the cat fancy at least the breeding of cats to create a certain type of cat began well before the late 1800s, the time when or the cat fancy formally started. And that some of the genetic mutations were picked up (recognized by people) before the time that it is accepted to have happened.

Oct 02, 2009 waving cats
by: kathy I have seen cats wave in this matter. When I first met my cat Midnight she waved to me in a similar matter. My bengal cat also waves to me when i come home from work. The cat Dewey in the book Dewey waves to the librarian when she comes to work.

Oct 02, 2009 Le Chat Angora
by: Finn Frode, Denmark Hi Michael. Assuming that Jean-Honoré Fragonard painted a real cat – well, maybe not the pose, but a cat of that build and with that curly fur.

Assuming that, then you were absolutely right when you wrote this in the LaPerm section “…it is probable that this mutation has happened elsewhere and at other times…” It seems indeed it has.

Not great art, but the picture tells an interesting story nonetheless. 😉


Oct 02, 2009 Teddy bear cat
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra That is very interesting Michael.As I was reading it before I read that you thought the cat looked like a teddy bear, that was my thoughts too.
It looks like a teddy bear but with its face changed to a cats face.
How intruiging !

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