Home / Animals / Cats in Art: How Our Feline Friends Have Inspired Artists for Centuries

Cats in Art: How Our Feline Friends Have Inspired Artists for Centuries

Japanese Woodblock Prints

Much like Chinese paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, or Ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”), have frequently featured feline iconography for hundreds of years.

The ways in which cats are depicted in woodblock prints widely vary. Many pieces, for example, simply show cats in domestic settings. In these works, the animals are accents, as the interior scenes appear to be the prints' primary focus. Similarly, some prints explore the relationship between the cats and their owners—namely, beautiful female figures. In addition to these everyday portrayals, woodblock prints also often feature felines dressed and behaving as people. These personified cats offer a comical twist on both cat art and the Ukiyo-e practice.

Cat Art Cats in Art History Cat Paintings

Utagawa Hiroshige, ‘Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival’ (1857)
Photo: Hiroshige [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cat Art Cats in Art History Cat Paintings

Utagawa Hiroshige, ‘Cat Crossing to Eat’ (1830-1844)
Photo: Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation via Artsy

Fin de siècle Posters

In addition to can-can dancers and cafés, French fin de siècle posters also often feature an unlikely subject: felines. Adorning everything from cabaret flyers to tea advertisements, cats constantly pop up in these beautiful Belle Époque posters.

Similar to the pets portrayed in Ukiyo-e prints, the cats depicted in these turn-of-the-century designs are conveyed in a range of ways. In some, they are prominently presented as the main subject. In others, they simply emphasize the domesticity of the scene, highlighting the homey appeal of the advertised product.

Cat Art Cats in Art History Cat Paintings

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, ‘Tournée du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis’ (1896)
Théophile Steinlen [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cat Art Cats in Art History Cat Paintings

Théophile Steinlen, ’Compagnie française des chocolats et des thés’ (ca. 1895-1900)
Théophile Steinlen [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cat Art Cats in Art History Cat Paintings

Georges Meunier, ‘Papier à cigarettes Job’ (1894)
Photo: Gallica [Public Domain]

Contemporary Art

Given the popularity of our feline friends, it is no surprise that today's top artists often opt to incorporate cats in their oeuvre.

Much like the contemporary art movement itself, these depictions are diverse and eclectic. Spanning all sorts of materials, mediums, and styles, these purr-fect portrayals prove that cat iconography is here to stay.

 

Smudged Ink & Watercolor Paintings

Cat Watercolor Painting

Artist: Endre Penovc

Cat Watercolor Painting

Artist: Endre Penovc

 

Cat Tattoos

Cat Tattoos Contemporary Art History

Artist: Sol Tattoo

 

Palette Knife Cat Paintings

Grumpy Cat Palette Knife Painting

Artist: Aja Apa-Soura

 

Cat-Shaped Architecture

Cat Art History Architecture

Kindergarten Die Katze in Germany

Cat Art History Architecture

Kindergarten Die Katze in Germany

 

Cat Embroidery

Cat Art History Embroidery

Artist: Emillie Ferris

Cat Sandals

Cat Sandals Cat Art History

Cat Sandals by Nyarageta

Cat Sandals Cat Art History

Cat Sandals by Nyarageta

 

Public Sculpture of Beloved Stray Cat

Tombili Cat Sculpture Istanbul

Tombili Cat Sculpture in Istanbul

 

LEGO Cat Sculpture

Cat LEGO Sculpture Cats in Art History

Artist: JEKCA

 

Quirky Cat Illustrations

Cat Illustrations Cat Puns Cat Art Harry Potter Cat

Artist: Katie Ruby

 

Cat Advertising

Cat Advertising Cats in Art History

Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (aka CATS)

 

Related Articles:

Mind-Blowing Photorealistic Pencil Drawings of Cats

Charming Illustrations Document the Beloved Bodega Cats of Brooklyn

Cats Are Tattooing Other Cats in Surreal Japanese Ink Wash Paintings

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.

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