Categories: Cats in Art

Édouard Manet loved cats and many of his letters have small sketches of cats

Édouard Manet’s cat illustrations on some of his letters. Photo in public domain. Montage by PoC.

This is a little bit of cat trivia. It is not going to change the world but it is quite interesting nonetheless to people who like cats.

Édouard Manet, a French modernist painter of the 19th century, was ‘a pivotal figure in the world of art in the transition from Realism to Impressionism’. Personally, I like his paintings although I am not convinced that he was the greatest of draughtsmen.

I say this because there are some fairly average depictions of the human face and we are told that his casual, spontaneous, watercolour illustrations of cats and other objects added to some of his letters were in fact carefully contrived by using tracing paper.

We are told that he wanted to give the impression that he casually added the illustrations freehand to his letters as a great artist might, but Dr Emily Beeney, the associate curator of drawings at the J Paul Getty Museum, told The Observer newspaper that she had spotted tracing.

“They are always described as breezy, virtuosic and effortless, and dashed off in a moment. But what I discovered is that most of these things seem to have been traced from more searching and careful drawings that he had made in his sketchbooks. He would take semi–transparent letter paper, laid down over a sketchbook page, trace that design with a wash of grey watercolour and then basically colour it in with watercolour.”-Dr Emily Beeney.

To me, it doesn’t really matter. He loved cats and his cat, Zizi (a good French name for a cat), features in his paintings.

“.. the charming fiction of the cat posing in the garden makes plain Manet’s hope that such drawings would be received as fresh and spontaneous, unpremeditated, easy.”

Beeney thinks that the experts overlooked the tracing aspect of these letter illustrations because they were reluctant to diminish the standing of a renowned and influential artist who, at the time, caused great controversy but his paintings inspired young painters who would create a new movement of Impressionism, a style of painting that almost everyone on the planet has heard about. It’s nice to know that he loved cats as well.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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