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.

July 1, 2015

July 1, 2015

There are of course paintings of cats at the Harvard Art Museums. This simply illustrates the point:

The director of these art musuems is scheduled to step down July 1, 2015, according to the Boston Globe (January 29, 2015) . Thomas Lentz (June 11, 1951) finished last fall a 350 million dollar refurbishment of that complex.

He leaves in his moment of triumph, with one of the world’s great art museums — home to more than 250,000 objects across all cultures and periods, and many individual masterpieces — hugely enhanced after years of often grueling effort.....

A tall, white-haired Californian who loves the outdoors, Lentz speaks in a drawl so steady and relaxed that he can often sound bored with himself. ....
[I]n a letter sent out to the Harvard community, he summarized his experience: “I came to Harvard thinking much of my work would be centered on infrastructure issues at our historic building at 32 Quincy Street. While that did occur, what we really pursued was something quite different: a complete re-imagining of our institution and its re-alignment with the academic mission of Harvard University.”

Before moving into museum administration, Lentz was a specialist in Islamic art....

Lentz’s public manner, both urbane and self-effacing, veils a streak of unbending determination. When he arrived in Cambridge from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Harvard’s storied art museums had endured years of dysfunction. The old Fogg Art Museum on Quincy Street, which held the bulk of the collection, had a leaky roof and no proper climate control, putting precious artworks at risk and making visits to the museum uncomfortable.

Its storage spaces were overcrowded, and its original, 1927 electrical and plumbing systems were still in place. If it was not overhauled, quickly, the museum — a home to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Pollock, and countless others — would not be reaccredited, according to a 2007 report in Harvard Magazine.

The Busch-Reisinger Museum, dedicated to Harvard’s collection of Germanic art, was ensconced at the time in a 1991 building tacked onto the back of the Fogg, and suffering from structural problems. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, devoted chiefly to Asian art, was across the road in a building designed in 1985.

Lentz’s job was to find a way to yoke all three museums together, while acknowledging their separate histories and safeguarding some degree of autonomy. He had to revamp — really, to gut — a beloved old building in the process: a massive project for which the Italian architect Renzo Piano was hired.

The project required finding a facility that could house the collection and the museum’s administrative offices during the renovation period. Lentz and his staff installed a display of highlights from the collection in the Sackler galleries, and moved the rest of the collection to storage in Somerville. They had to get permission to knock down the Busch-Reisinger building, and to make necessary alterations to the neighboring Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, famous for being the only building in the US designed by the great modernist architect Le Corbusier.

Lentz had to navigate his way through Harvard’s byzantine bureaucracy, resolve numerous conflicts with Piano’s team, and raise huge amounts of money even as Harvard’s endowment plummeted in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. He had to unite the three museums not only physically, but also administratively and conceptually, trying all the while to keep the institution engaged with its essential business, and frustrated curators happy.

Lentz's accomplishment was impressive, and speaking of impressive:

The portrait above  is by Tsugouharu Foujita. Titled "White Cat," it dates from the Shôwa period.

This next painting, also at the Harvard Art Museum, is titled "Cat and Goldfish Bowl". The artist is Isoda Koryusai and it dates to the Edo period. 

It is interesting that this painting was done about 20 years after the incident recorded in Gray's poem: "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfish." That poem documents an actual event which happened exactly opposite Japan on the globe.

Is there, in the history of the world, a better portrayal of a wet cat paw than that above by Isoda Koryusai?

June 30, 2015

June 30, 1999

Of Edouard Boubat, (September 13, 1923 to June 30, 1999) spoken of in the same breath as Cartier-Bresson, we read that:

France’s most famous romantic photographer, was born in Paris.... He grew up on the Rue Cyrano-de-Bergerac, Montmartre. As the son of an army chef, he heard many tales of the Great War, in which his father served as a cook on the front lines and was wounded three times.

In 1938, Boubat attended the École Estienne, where he studied to become a photo-engraver, but in 1943, he was called up to serve two years of compulsory labour in a factory in Leipzig, Germany. Upon his return to Paris in 1946, Boubat sold his six-volume dictionary to fund the purchase of his first camera, a 6x6 Rolleicord.

Boubat’s approach to photography was deeply affected by World War II: “Because I know war… because I know the horror, I don’t want to add to it.… After the war, we felt the need to celebrate life, and for me photography was the means to achieve this.” Spanning a 50 year career, Boubat’s photographs do just that. They celebrate the beauty, simplicity, and little things in life.

His first professional photograph was taken in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1946, “Little Girl with Dead Leaves,” a charming and magical shot. The following year, at the age of 24, Boubat exhibited the picture at the Salon International de la Photographie organized by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and was awarded the Kodak Prize. It was an amazing start to his career.

The same year that he bought the Rolleicord Boubat met his future wife, Lella, of whom he took some of the most beautiful and emblematic photographs of the 20th century.

In 1950, Boubat’s work was initially published by the Swiss magazine
Caméra. Soon after, he became acquainted with the artistic director of the French magazine Realités. From then on, Boubat traveled the world for the prestigious magazine. His assignments often took him to poor and desolate regions, but Boubat still managed to capture only love and beauty. His special gift as a photojournalist was finding the common thread that linked the everyday life of people everywhere.....

Boubat took this picture of Noelle in 1982:

June 29, 2015

June 29, 1895

Emile Munier (June 2, 1840 to June 29, 1895) was a French painter, the son of a family involved in cloth manufacturing. He painted scenes of children and animals often, and below is one example. Both his wives were involved in the arts. He was a successful artist until a sudden illness ended his life.

"Catch" is dated to 1886.

Munier was a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 –1905), and like him, an example of the art that the moderns were rejecting. More paintings and a biography is available at

June 28, 2015

June 28, 1926

George Booth (June 28, 1926) mentioned recently that his household, speaking of pets, had no dogs at that moment but only cats. In an interview written up by Mina Kaneko and Francoise Mouly of The New Yorker,  about one of their iconic cartoonists,  he says:

We celebrate Christmas with Dionne, my wife, and my daughter, Sarah, and we got a couple of pussycats—Schrodinger and Max. (We don’t have any dogs at the moment.) I grew up in northwest Missouri, about thirty miles from the border with Nebraska, twenty-five from Kansas, and twenty from Iowa, tucked up in the corner—corn country, snow country. It was a wonderful little town called Fairfax. My dad was superintendent of the schools and I had two brothers (I still got one). My mother, Mawmaw Booth, passed away some years ago. I feel her presence all the time. When I was three and half, I drew a race car stuck in the mud. I laughed at it and laughed at it, and she started encouraging me to be a cartoonist—and it went on from there.

We are so interested in origins, in spite of how rarely they explain anything. Booth is a case in point. 

June 27, 2015

June 27, 1946

The oldest of five children, Wanda Hazel Gag (March 11, 1893 to June 27, 1946 )....was born in New Ulm, Minnesota.... It was a cold winter, and her parents—immigrants from Bohemia and Germany—were burdened not just with a newborn baby but also by a series of rented rooms, all of which were infested with bedbugs. Gág’s father, Anton, worked as a commercial photographer; her sickly, “birdlike” mother was his assistant. ... [It gets worse and Gag perseveres ].....
 In 1928, Gág was offered a contract for her “cat book,” a story she wrote and illustrated with the blackest ink she could find, using two cats named Snoopy and Snookie as models; her brother did the lettering. When “Millions of Cats” was published, in September of that year, it sold well, and continuted to do so throughout the Great Depression. Gág never had to worry about money again....

We quoted from a New Yorker article by 
Alice Gregory (April 25, 2014). Millions of Cats harks back to the time of violence in fairy tales. I am not sure what the implications are but we have lost that edge now. 

June 26, 2015

June 26, 1931

Remember Colin Wilson (June 26, 1931 to December 5, 2013)?  I like this picture, of him, of a time when books were books, intellectuals were lauded, poverty was a badge of honor:

Ken MacLeod's obit, reminds us of the start of Wilson's fame:

... The Outsider [1956] ticks all the boxes for a successful cult book: readable style, significant subject-matter, and reckless assertion. The effect was exhilarating.
It was also, unfortunately, often misleading. Wilson had read all the books he cited and given them much thought, but the thought was slapdash, and Wilson took care to be off down the street, whistling, cash in hand, before the cement crumbled. Here he is, for instance, on Roquentin, the narrator of Sartre’s novel
La Nausée (1938):

Roquentin feels insignificant before things. Without the meaning his Will would normally impose on it, his existence is absurd. Causality — Hume’s bugbear — has collapsed; consequently there are no adventures.

The aside — ‘Hume’s bugbear’ — is pure sleight of hand. (David Hume, after all, was convinced he’d solved the problem of causality: it was no bugbear to him.) Likewise the capitalisation of ‘Will’, a crafty reminder that this is not just any will, but the metaphysical Will of Arthur Schopenhauer’s
The World as Will and Idea (1818), to whose ‘formidable dialectical apparatus’ Wilson had tipped his hat a few pages earlier. Nevertheless, there’s no denying Wilson’s knack of engaging the reader, or his capacity to make an account of any piece of philosophy or literature race like an action sequence.

We skip over the fact Hume did not actually think he had "solved the problem of causality," and  quote another obit (from The Telegraph)  which sets the context of Wilson's first book:

Wilson became a celebrity almost overnight and the book went on to be translated into 12 languages. It added to the excitement that he had written The Outsider in the Reading Room at the British Museum, while spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath. On finding himself lionised, however, Wilson spent lavishly on wine, whisky and long-playing records; meanwhile, his frankly expressed opinion that he was “a genius” soon earned him the enmity of Fleet Street.

Colin Wilson wrote a number of biographies in his career,  including one about Maslow,
New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution. (2004). There are several cat references in this book, quotes Wilson rounded up, and they are of interest:

Wilson quotes Yeats, saying he wrote poetry the way a sick cat eats Valerian; and Margaret Lane [a novelist] listing her emotional response to a cat with a hurt paw as excessive.

It was not hard to find feline references in Wilson's many books, but look again at that picture of the young intellectual. My research indicates there is not a cat on the shabby armchair. As smart as Wilson was, a cat, might have been a bit of ballast for this writer.

June 24, 2015

June 24, 1873

Hugo Simberg (June 24, 1873 to July 12, 1917) was a Finnish painter whose canvases show his symbolist absorption. In Finland he is very famous. Here is a bit of background:

A key figure of the symbolist movement, Simberg was known for his unique paintings blending realistic portraiture, landscape, and fantasy, with odd figures often featuring. Devils and trolls ....
After beginning his art studies in Vyborg, Simberg later became a pupil of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, one of the biggest names in Finnish art. Although the public found Simberg’s symbolistic and naïve depictions of supernatural beings odd, they gradually warmed up to him, and he was commissioned to decorate St John’s Church in Tampere, now Tampere Cathedral. One of the frescoes found in the church is a reproduction ofThe Garden of Death (1896) while a continuous fresco, The Garland Bearers (1906), depicts twelve young boys carrying a garland of roses, representing the disciples of Christ carrying the vine of life. Simberg also painted a red-winged serpent of Paradise on the ceiling, sparking off considerable protest, and as late as 1946, the bishop of Tampere Diocese proposed that it be removed.

This is dated 1895---

That's not weird; the image below, it's weird---

Hugo Simberg

A nice bio sketch is here, with a selection of his pictures, including this below, of his wife. (1908).  Simberg compares with Sargent if you look at his realist themes. We are quite pleased to have found Simberg. 

Keinutuolissa--Anni Bremer  | I Gungstolen--Anni Bremer  | Anni Bremer in the Rocking Chair 1908