Living

The art of the kitty

By Todd Leopold, CNN

Published 6:35 AM ET, Thu October 29, 2015
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Cats, with their languid yet assertive personalities, seem a natural companion for artists. After all, cats are independent -- though not above hopping on pianos or typewriter keys to attract attention -- making them purr-fect friends for an artist's unusual hours. A new book, "Artists and Their Cats" (Chronicle), collects photographs of artists with their favorite felines. Director Agnes Varda, for example, featured cats in her films and even made a video about a favorite, Zgougou. Didier Doussin via Chronicle Books
Children's book illustrator Arthur Rackham, famed for his pen-and-ink drawings, was known to make room for cats in his books -- he created a Cheshire Cat for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" -- and on his shoulders.
Central Michigan University via Chronicle Books
Androgynous photographer Claude Cahun played with gender roles, championed surrealism, fought against the Nazis -- and was quite fond of cats. (One neighbor remembers her walking a leashed cat on a beach.) She even called a late-'40s series of photographs, "The Way of Cats." Jersey Heritage Museum via Chronicle Books
Edward Gorey, the author of the amusingly macabre "Gashlycrumb Tinies" and other works, was as fond of drawing cats as he was of owning them. The real-life cats were as quirky as their artist friend: One of them, observes "Artists and Their Cats," "didn't learn to purr until she was 10 years old." He usually kept six cats in his Cape Cod house because, he said, "seven cats is too many cats." Eleanor Garvey via Chronicle Books
The Surrealists apparently had a thing for cats. (Besides Cahun, Frida Kahlo, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali liked felines.) Florence Henri, whose offbeat photography has been compared to her contemporary Man Ray, fit right in, as you can tell from the furball in her arms in this photograph. Archive Florence Henri/Martini & Ronchetti, Genoa via Chronicle Books
Painter Georgia O'Keeffe may have lived in the spartan American Southwest, but she (and her husband, photographer Alfred Stiglitz) were never far from feline friends. They kept a few in their New Mexico house. John Candelario/Palace of the Governors Photo Archives via Chronicle Books
Henri Matisse, known for such works as "The Dance," kept several cats, including Coussi, la Puce and Minouche. They also popped up in his paintings, including "Girl with a Black Cat." The cat in the picture looks quite relaxed; apparently Matisse was the same way around his pets. Robert Capa/Magnum Photos/ICP via Chronicle Books/Magnum Photos/©Robert Capa © International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Experimental composer John Cage once created a piece called "4'33" (Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds)" -- one in which the musicians don't play a note. But the idea isn't silence; it's to listen to the performance space. One imagines Cage's many cats created their own music, perhaps just as random as Cage's. His pals included Skookum, a black cat, and the energetic Losa. John Cage Trust via Chronicle Books
British portrait artist Philip Burne-Jones was a noted cat lover from his childhood days -- his father, a famous artist in his own right, made sketches of his son and a cat. Burne-Jones illustrated a travel book with a picture of a cat on the streets of New York. Library of Congress via Chronicle Books
OK, so Salvador Dali wasn't a cat lover, per se. He did, however, like members of the cat family -- including his pet ocelot, Babou. The ocelot regularly accompanied Dali to such places as restaurants and autograph signings. Not that Dali was above other felines -- just check out the photo he did for Philippe Halsman's "Jump Book." Library of Congress via Chronicle Books
You knew Wanda Gag was a cat lover from her best-selling 1928 book, "Millions of Cats," which won the Newbery Medal for children's literature. Her intricate drawings, some of which have the eerie dreamlike quality of M.C. Escher's, often feature the feline. Gag herself had many cats at her homes, first in New York's Greenwich Village, and later in New Jersey and New England. Minnesota Historical Society via Chronicle Books