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Animals and cats in several recent London exhibitions

2019 January 31

Bonnard’s ‘The Bowl of Milk’ c.1919 with dark cat, tail erect, awaiting small bowl of milk…

Recent exhibitions in London have often displayed paintings in which animals have been portrayed – though scarcely their depiction is mentioned in nearby text. Thus Landseer’s images in the National Gallery room avoided Landseer’s written outspoken criticism of cruelty practices towards non-human animals , the cropping of dogs’ ears or the tying up of them for long periods of time. Also ignored was his position, by 1869, as a vice president of the RSPCA.

Even in the praised Mantegna / Bellini exhibition also at the National Gallery, which well displayed Mantegna’s painting of elephants, horses, birds, various rabbits, sheep accompanied by peasants, and a dog near a blind woman there was no description in the accompanying text of his stance towards animals (even though there was no such coverage within Bellini.)

The recent Edward Burne – Jones in Tate Britain has been popularised but only one cat is seen , looking at ‘Clara Van Bork 1560’ mainly because she is holding a nest of small birds in her hands which are being seen by the feline at her feet.

The latest well publicised exhibition of Pierre Bonnard is specifically described as ‘the colour of memory’ thus bearing less attention to the presence of some animals previously seen in Paris galleries. Significantly the first room, with worded description, photographs Bonnard with his distinctive dachshund dog though the dog is less seen in the 13 rooms. Two white cats in a ‘Dining room in the country’ and one dark cat anticipating ‘The Bowl of Milk’ with tail held high awaiting a small bowl of milk are less characterised than the plethora of female human bathroom projection (in which cats or dogs do not fear to venture!)

It’s almost as if some animals are finally recognised as existing in a painter’s work shown in galleries to bring in more people – yet most art historians seem to focus less explicitly on such animal presence…

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