Recently I’ve been reading about the life and work of Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894), artist and member of the Royal Academy who specialised in paintings of family pets. Barber even painted several commissions for Queen Victoria. Naturally, though, this research led to a parallel trawl through some of the most amusing images of Victorians and their cats:
This child is a vampire. No two ways about it. The cat is desperately trying to tell the dog to go fetch help and the dog is waaaay too dumb to understand.
Fun fact: cats in the nineteenth century emitted low doses of chloroform vapour when rubbed on their tummies. In the days before surgical anaesthesia is was common practice to apply a tortoiseshell directly to a patient’s face.
“No, kitty. You can’t go out to the garden. If I have to sit here and wear this fucking hat then you have to stay here and suffer with me.”
This painting is a serious Freudian nightmare: lady wearing giant phallic symbol making out with her cat. Does the cat represent her deepest repressed desires? Or does she simply smell of tuna?
Holy shit, is that a PANTHER?!?
As I put this post together it became increasingly clear that twee domestic images of girls and cats from the nineteenth century are fairly common, but images of cats and men are much harder to come by. Then I came across THIS GLORIOUS DAGUERREOTYPE from 1850 of a blind man holding a cat. This gent is by far the suavest motherfucker in any Victorian photograph I have ever seen. The cat, by contrast, has either failed to sit still, or is the product of a glitch in the Matrix.
Equally fascinating is this late-nineteenth-century image of a man smoking Opium in San Francisco. I like to imagine his faithful kitty is called Mrs De Quincey.
In this Carl Larsson painting from 1912, Princess Leia and her cat Grand Admiral Fluffypants are flashed by a random stranger on a bridge.
“Day 246 of my imprisonment. My spirit is broken. I have succumbed to the affections of my human overlords. Even my heterochromia brings me no joy. Life is meaningless…*sigh*”
Can we all just take a minute here to appreciate this fantastic beast. His name is Fulmer Zaida and he was the winner of the first ever cat show in 1870. The event was so popular it attracted more than 170 entries and 20,000 visitors! Fulmer Zaida would go on to win more than 150 prizes. Good for you, cat.
This cat came second. Every time. He is still dealing with his dark and twisty feelings.
“We wants it Precious. It’s our birthday…”
12. Finally, I shall leave you with this haunting image by Joseph Wright (1734 – 1797).
At first this looks innocent enough: ‘oh look, the girls are playing with the kitten.’ But the more you look at that kitten the more hypnotic he becomes. Seriously, look at that face – that is the face of old gods right there. We’re talking “If you stare into the kitten, the kitten stares back into you” type stuff. Also, I have become convinced that the spectral light is emanating directly from the kitten. KITTEN IS YOUR GOD NOW, CHILDREN!! WORSHIP AND DESPAIR!
You may also like our follow-up post “Did Victorian Cats Eat Kibble?”