Friday, September 28, 2012

Downstairs Upstairs

What a difference a preposition makes.

In my book Cat Lady Chronicles, I have brought together reproductions of cats from diverse museum collections worldwide. And what about certain cats who live literally in museums as opposed to those who historically have come alive on canvas?

Several museum registrars tipped me off to a fascinating New Yorker blog post this week by Sally McGrane about cats living in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg—specifically, cats who hang out in the museum’s basement, several floors below where the famed collections are displayed. Extraordinarily dedicated museum employees care for these previously undomesticated, nearly starving creatures.

Cats roaming the halls of museums are taboo, for obvious reasons. But cats featured in art that hangs on the walls of prestigious galleries is a different matter altogether.

 Take, for example, one of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s genre scenes, The Washerwoman (c. 1733–39). Recently discovered by Toledo Museum of Art curator Lawrence Nichols, who made his "out-of-sight" find in a private collection in France, this small painting is described by critic and independent curator Karen Wilkin as a wonderful example of “Chardin’s magic.” What attracts me to the painting most? The well-fed calico cat, of course, who appears to be dutifully protecting his Cat Lady.

Long live the cat-and-museum connection, whether downstairs or upstairs.

Query of the Day: Would this painting be complete without a cat up front?

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