By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
As someone who shares her home with three cats I am always on the look out for felines in art. Truth-be-told I have an unofficial competition going in terms of representation of dogs versus cats in the Fenimore Art Museum collection. So, when I was back in our newly renovated painting storage area I was delighted to find another cat friendly portrait - Four Children and a Cat. In this 1840s portrait the cat is batting one of the children’s locket - familiar behavior to anyone who owns a cat.
How many other cats were prowling around the galleries and collection spaces I wondered? A quick survey found at least 8 cats (big and small) featured in portraits, paintings, toys, prints, quilts and statues. No surprise as some of those pieces came from the Gunn family, whose collection is now part of our own.
Although Mrs. Gunn had a reputation for not being overly fond of children she was plainly an animal lover. The following was recorded before her death in 1957:
“Most of all I like dogs, but now I keep cats. I, of course, will soon go. Dogs would grieve for me, but cats will not cry, will live out their time.”
The interviewer relates that “Neighbors thinking that Mrs. G worshipped cats were bringing or stealthily abandoning kittens at her door…Finally the stray cats found their way to the house on their own.” I would add that they found their way into the artwork as well.