Categories: Cats in Art

The sex symbolism behind the cat in Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

The all-white cat gazing out of the balcony doors to the exterior, in David Hockney’s painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, is sitting on Mr Clark’s lap in a peculiar and uncomfortable way.

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney. It is reproduced here for educational purposes.

The cat is meant to be the Percy referred to in the painting’s title but he is not. She is Blanche. I guess Hockey preferred the all-white appearance of Blanche while also preferring the name of Mr and Mrs Clark’s other cat, Percy. It is clear why. Both the name Percy and the way the cat is sitting is linked.

‘Percy’ is slang for penis. Percy sits erect (the word is carefully chosen) on Clark’s left leg and crotch but his left forepaw appears to be placed almost directly on Clark’s penis. Holding it down.

Here is the symbolism because Mr Clark was unfaithful to his wife. After his marriage he continued to have affairs with men and women. The marriage ended in 1974 while the painting was created between 1970-71. This was a short marriage and the husband’s infidelity contributed to that sad state of affairs.

Mr Clark does not place his hands on Blanche as he might considering the slightly precarious position he has taken up. It looks uncomfortable and it is the kind of sitting position a cat would not take up except for a brief moment. So it is rather artificial which allows Hockney to create the symbolism.

Katharine Rogers in her book, The Cat and the Human Imagination says that as Percy is not held he is free to go. Katharine did not realise that the cat was not Percy but Blanche and she refers to the cat in the masculine as a consequence.

She states that the cat is asserting ‘his’ independence. Perhaps this is another element of the cat’s symbolism in representing Mr Clark’s wandering and free-to-do-as-it-pleases penis.

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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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