The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 22, 2014

August 22, 1874

Our subject today, Helen Allingham (September 26, 1848 to September 28, 1926) was a painter in watercolor, and her husband, William Allingham, was an Irish poet. They maried on August 22, 1874. It sounds like a marriage made in a novelistic heaven, and so it seems to have been on earth. They had three sons. Helen illustrated her husband's book for children. And through it all, she kept painting. After the war ended, and her art came to be judged sentimental, and Victorian, she kept painting. Scenes like this:

She just kept painting until hours before her sudden death.

August 21, 2014

August 21, 1930

Kit Wood (April 7, 1901 to August 21,  1930),  was an English painter, whose talent was spotted by Augustus John. John encouraged Kit Wood to study art and in Paris Wood met avant garde artists and himself left a body of interesting work. 

Here are copies of two paintings which we found at the 
Cat Museum of San Francisco's facebook page.

Below: Wood's painting "Boy with Cat" (1926). The "boy" is Jean Bourgoint who with his sister, Jeanne, were the inspiration for Jean Cocteau's novel "Les Enfants Terribles".

The Cat Museum of San Francisco  also shared  "Siamese Cats" (1927) by Kit Wood (John Christopher Wood)

We are indebted to a short essay on Wood from G+ for the information below

On August 21st in 1930, the English painter John Christopher Wood committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. He was only 29 years old and it is believed that he may have been motivated by paranoid delusions stemming from opium withdrawal.

Wood, often called "Kit", was bisexual and, judging from his letters, seems to have had a very intense personality. He studied art at the Academie Julian in Paris, where he met and admired not only Picasso and Jean Cocteau, but the Chilean Diplomat Antonio de Gandarillas,  whose lover he became. De Gandarillas lived mainly off of gambling and got Wood addicted to opium. Their relationship lasted (on and off) for the rest of Wood's life.

Though most of his paintings were made in Paris, Wood also spent some time in Brittany and painted some of his best works there....

August 20, 2014

August 20, 1890

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, (August 20, 1890 to March 15, 1937) was an antiquarian, amateur genealogist , and writer of some classics in the genre of horror fiction. Lovecraft, with a distinguished pedigree, had to deal with the loss of family wealth, and position. He does not seem to have suffered from the insanity which also ran in his family. Myself, I would put Lovecraft's biography as mainly a story about the urbanization of America. Like many horror writers, Lovecraft takes the tossing of the waves of a mechanical world as a source of emotional verity, and his intellectual sustenance is spent validating this limited view. 

But such is not the point of this post. We have in Lovecraft a fellow cat person. He said that "the dog is a peasant, the cat a gentleman."

This quote is from An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, edited by S. T. Joshi, and David E. Schultz (2001),  which work is evidence of and means to elevate, Lovecraft's reputation. 

August 19, 2014

August 19, 1905

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (November 30, 1825 to August 19, 1905) , the painter,  once ruled the French art world. Here is a recent assessment.

....The whims of taste, like those of fashion, change. And anyone trying to keep up with whatever is lauded as the avant-garde must feel somewhat dazed and confused. Not long ago, art-historically speaking, Abstract Expressionism reigned. Now, empty, academic realism—which prizes resplendent surface effects over the development of metaphor and form—has risen again to power. We can trace academic art's ascendance from Pop art to the recent canonization of illustrator Norman Rockwell and the celebration of vacant, formless paintings by John Currin, Eric Fischl, Gerhard Richter, Kehinde Wiley and Lisa Yuskavage—all of which have set the stage for the re-emergence of the Neoclassical painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).

Although Mr. Bouguereau's paintings were reviled by the Impressionists (whom Mr. Bouguereau kept out of the Salon), Matisse (whom he kicked out of his atelier) and Van Gogh, he was revered by the court and the public as the pre-eminent French painter of his era. Imbuing classical subjects with erotic Victorian flair, Mr. Bouguereau updated antiquity; and he flattered his female sitters, whatever their true nature, idealizing them with grace, charm and beauty. ...
Mr. Bouguereau worked in an overarching, nearly hyperrealistic manner after Raphael, and his illustrative paintings of coy, angelic, soft-focus nudes, women and children, posed melodramatically in ethereal settings, entice with manicured detail. But lacking form and rhythm, and convincing only in passages, they amount to a cloying coquettishness. The ...catalogue raisonné ...
[attempts] to debunk the derision and re-establish Mr. Bouguereau alongside Raphael, Rembrandt and Titian. But his reappearance reveals more about contemporary taste and social psychology than artistic talent.

In all fairness,  we should listen to Bouguereau's fans. Today interest in  Bouguereau has revived, and some of his paintings have fetched in excess of a million dollars at auction. Here are the words of Damien Bartoli (1947-2009)*:

"William Bouguereau is unquestionably one of history's greatest artistic geniuses. Yet in the past century, his reputation and unparalleled accomplishments have undergone a libelous, dishonest, relentless and systematic assault of immense proportions. His name was stricken from most history texts and when included it was only to blindly, degrade and disparage him and his work. Yet, as we shall see, it was he who single handedly opened the French academies to women, and it was he who was arguably the greatest painter of the human figure in all of art history. His figures come to life like no previous artist has ever before or ever since achieved. He wasn't just the best ever at painting human anatomy, more importantly he captured the tender and subtlest nuances of personality and mood. Bouguereau caught the very souls and spirits of his subjects much like Rembrandt. Rembrandt is said to have captured the soul of age. Bouguereau captured the soul of youth.

Considering his consummate level of skill and craft, and the fact that the great preponderance of his works are life-size, it is one of the largest bodies of work ever produced by any artist. Add to that the fact that fully half of these paintings are great masterpieces, and we have the picture of an artist who belongs like Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Carravaggio, in the top ranks of only a handful of masters in the entire history of western art.

You can see lots of Bouguereau here. And below are a couple of paintings I like. 

"The Story Book" (1877)

"Bacchante on a Panther", has a classical theme. Panthers were associated with a certain kind of revelry in antiquity.

It is possible that Bouguereau rises above his defenders, in stature, even if just by a little. And speaking of his fans, here is wee update:

*  Damien Bartoli, the Bouguereau biographer, who worked with ARC Chairman, Fred Ross M.A. and Dr. Vern Swanson to produce the first comprehensive Catalogue Raisonné on William Bouguereau passed away in mid-December [2009].
Mr. Bartoli worked tirelessly on the Bouguereau Catalogue Raisonné project from the very beginning until last July, when content for the 30-year effort was handed over to our co publisher for final layout and printing.
He continued to work with Mr. Ross on other projects... until the day before he died, apparently from a heart attack while driving from Paris to Belgium.
We have lost a great friend and colleague. Our hearts go out to his wife, Martine and their two children, Xavier and Laetitia.

August 18, 2014

August 18, 1934

Sonia Levitin (August 18, 1934) is a children's author who also wrote a book of memoirs titled Reigning Cats and Dogs (1978). Her fiction includes Roanoke a novel of the Lost Colony (1973) and Rita the Weekend Rat (1971). Her website mentions almost 40 titles.

Reigning Cats and Dogs, was a disappointing read: she talks about family vacations when the pets are left to the care of neighborhood children. Still her chatty prose was at least clear, and maybe there was gravel in my milk this morning. Check out her website and make up your own mind.

August 17, 2014

August 17, 1932

Jean-Jacques Sempe (August 17, 1932) is a French cartoonist. The beauty and joy in his drawings and paintings however, puts him in a unique class.

A recent interview (2006, on the release of English translations of his books) relates:

Most cartoonists like to zoom in on their idea: to focus on the joke for fear of losing it. Sempé loves detail and confusion. He often (not always) sets his characters in a large, jumbled world, whose mass of detail amplifies the punch line or leads you away in chaotically different directions.

From his apartment in Montparnasse, there is a breath-stopping view over the whole of central Paris, from Saint Sulpice and Notre Dame north to the hill of Montmartre.

Sempé, a youthful 74, sits in grey flannels, blue blazer and bright blue shirt, looking more like a retired banker than a still very active cartoonist - one who, to many people, is among the finest living cartoonists in the world.

Stating the obvious, I say: "You have a very Sempé view."

"Oh, do you really think so?" he replies, grinning vaguely and looking out of the window. "I never thought about that. I was kicked out of my last apartment. I was looking for ages. And this is what I found. It's just a coincidence."

Such off-the-cuff humility is what you might expect from such a genius. You have seen his magazine covers. They may well have a cat. Here is a link to his New Yorker covers.

And here, as we drift from the topic, is the current New Yorker cartoon caption  contest subject. You have to send in your ideas TODAY, to be a winner.  Obviously this is NOT a Sempe cover, as you will have noticed if you clicked the penultimate link.