cover image Cats in Art

Cats in Art

Desmond Morris. Reaktion, $40 (224p) ISBN 978-1-78023-833-3

Zoologist Morris (The Boats of Malta) emphasizes the rich variety of cat images in art history, from a 7,000-year-old Libyan carving of cats fighting to Ronald Searle’s cartoon cats. Featuring 130 reproductions, the book explores the various manifestations and meanings behind the feline motif in art history, touching on the religious significance of cats in ancient Egypt, as seen in portrayals of the lion-headed goddess of war, Sekhmet, as well as in the medieval period in Europe, when cats developed evil connotations often portrayed in manuscripts with the devil and witches. Morris traces the erotic associations back to the late Renaissance, specifically Dutch painter Jan van Bijlert’s Young Woman Playing with a Cat (1630–1635). The book also includes discussions of Victorian artist Couldery’s playful paintings, the avant-garde cats of Klee and Picasso, and Russian cartoon drawings satirizing the funeral of Peter the Great. The book’s scope encompasses not only Western art but also tribal art from pre-Columbian Latin America, art from India and Japan, and contemporary Malaysian wall murals of the 101 Lost Kittens Project. Morris strikes a perfect balance between scholarly information and pop culture history, and, as a result, this book will appeal to cat lovers and art historians alike. Color illus. (Oct.)