Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nero: Artist, Poet and Olympian

The Romans regarded Greek culture as being rather effete and preferred their own more robust version of games and spectacles; copious amounts of blood on the sand ensured the success of any sporting event. Gladiators and half-starved wild animals were much in demand and a popular feature was the public execution of criminals by being chased around the arena and finally eaten by a hungry lion.

The Emperor Nero fancied himself as too cultured and artistic to enjoy such barbaric spectacles. He replaced the blood sports with foot races, singing and poetry contests, winning all the events for which he entered. The lack of gore did not go down well with the paying customers in Rome, so Nero decided to go on a tour of Greece where the finer things were appreciated.

Delaying only long enough to take care of a few loose ends such as murdering his mother, castrating his former favourite slave boy and crucifying a few fans who didn't applaud loudly enough at his last poetry recital, he packed his lyre and all his cosmetics and set out for Greece to attend and compete in the 67 AD Olympic Games. Here he not only won the chariot race despite falling out of his chariot, but he introduced several new events of a musical nature. The judges prudently declared him the winner of them all.

Flushed with success, he made the rounds of the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian and Panathean Games and handsomely won numerous events at every one. During his performances nobody was allowed to leave, although a few people got round that by feigning death and being carried out. These games were not usually all held in the same year, but in 67 AD they made an exception for Nero because his offer was just too good to refuse.
He returned to Rome, a tired but happy Emperor, with 1800 prizes. Normally these would have been wreaths of laurel or bay that an athlete could take home to his wife for the stock pot, but so overwhelmed were his loyal subjects by Nero's talent that they made another exception and presented him with jewels and precious objects. Medals were not introduced till 1904 or Nero would have made Mark Spitz look pretty silly with his meagre seven. Amazingly, the Ancient Games survived the Nero episode and went on for another 326 years before being banned on religious grounds by the Emperor Theodosius in 393 AD.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Fantastic Fudge

500 gr chocolate (just slab chocolate from the supermarket will do: I like a mixture of milk and dark, but please yourself)
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
75 gr butter
1 teaspoon vanilla (or peppermint essence if you feel like a minty fudge)

Melt everything except the vanilla together over a low heat, do not boil. When the mixture is smooth and shiny, stir in the vanilla.
Pour into a dish lined with baking paper. I use a 20 x 25 cms oblong baking tin. See picture.
Cool and put in fridge to set. Cut into squares.
Sit back and wait for compliments.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Tiara for a Princess

Let's leave the painters, sculptors and photographers on the back burner for a bit and take a look at the art of the jeweller. More particularly, at the tiara that the second Baron Poltimore bestowed on his wife in 1870. His Lordship commissioned the tiara from Garrard, the Court Jeweller.

Garrard was appointed Court Jeweller by Queen Victoria in 1843, responsible for the upkeep of the Crown Jewels and for creating jewellery for the Royal Family, including such pieces as the Imperial Crown of India, the crown of Queen Mary for her coronation, and the Crown of Queen Elizabeth (the Q Mum). We can go and admire these fine examples of Garrard's art for a modest fee, at the Crown Jewels display in the Tower of London.  Garrard's also created Princess Diana's engagement ring, which we can admire free of charge whenever The Duchess of Cambridge waves her hand.

Recently, Garrard's saw fit to appoint Jade Jagger (daughter of Mick) as its creative director, and raunchy pop singer Christina Aguilera as the company's new face. Gold chain-mail underwear, diamond-studded revolver pendants and devil-themed trinkets were soon featured in the Garrard's catalogue. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the upshot was that after 165 years, the Palace gave Garrard's the pink slip. Henceforth the Crown Jewels and the Queen's personal jewellery collection will be cared for by Mr Collins, who runs a quaint jewellery business in Tunbridge Wells High Street and has no truck with raunchiness in any form.

But back to The Poltimore Tiara: it was so named after its first owner, Florence Bampfylde, Lady Poltimore. Good call to name it after her title rather than her surname – the Bampfylde Tiara sounds like somehing more suited to the Goblin Queen of Mordor than a peeress of the realm. And never mind a Baroness … a Princess of the Blood would certainly not pop anything called a Bampfylde onto her head, especially not on her wedding day! And that is exactly what HRH Princess Margaret did.

Princess Margaret and the Poltimore Tiara were meant for each other. The tiara had to wait nearly a century for its Princess, but one happy day in 1959, the Kismet Fairy brought them together. It happened like this: after Florence's death in 1909 the Poltimore passed to Margaret, the third Lady Poltimore. She gave it its grandest outing yet, to the 1911 coronation of King George V.  The Tiara was a bit miffed to be tucked away behind the Duchesses and Countesses, on the head of a mere Baroness, considering it was much grander than any of the other tiaras. Still, it was Westminster Abbey, even in the cheap seats.

But the Poltimore's Day of Destiny was at hand. The 4th Baron must have been feeling the pinch, because he offered the Tiara for sale at auction in 1959. Kismet kicked in and Princess Margaret snapped it up for a mere £5,500.

It was a match made in heaven. If ever there was a tiara that cried out for a beehive hairdo to set it off, this was it. At last the Tiara came into its own. On its second outing to Westminster Abbey, it rested proudly on the head of the bride, a princess, at a royal wedding, the cynosure of more TV cameras and papparazzi flashes than you could shake a stick at. Its rococo opulence was elegantly set off by the simplicity of the wedding gown and it lent height to the diminutive princess.

The Princess loved that tiara. She even wore it in the bath. I hasten to reassure the Gentle Reader that the photographer in this instance was no long-lensed papparazzo from the Murdoch stable, but her husband. There he is, in the mirror. No scandal here, nothing to see, move along, please.

The Poltimore is a seriously convertible sparkler. It comes in its own blue leather fitted case, complete with screwdrivers and alternate settings. It breaks down into a necklace and eleven brooches. The Princess wore it in al its incarnations, although she never actually wore all eleven brooches at once (as far as I know). I wouldn't have put it past that old magpie Queen Mary to find room for eleven brooches on the royal façade and still manage to hang a few ropes of pearls round her neck, but her granddaughter showed a bit more restraint.

When Princess Margaret died, her two children faced inheritance taxes of over 3 million pounds. Some of their mother's jewels had to be sold, including the Poltimore. (They kept "a few smaller tiaras", so no need to feel sorry for them.) The reserve was set at $350,000, but it was sold to an anonymous Asian buyer for a whopping  $1.7 million.

I do hope this stupendous sparkler with its romantic story was not broken up for the stones, whoppers as they are. I like to think that somewhere in Beijing or Tokyo there is a lady as petite and pretty as the princess, wearing the tiara in her scented bubble bath.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Keep Calm and Google It

What Did We Do Before Google?
PJ O'Rourke remarked that for those who are always sighing for a return to the romantic past of horse-drawn carriages and a slower pace of life, he had only one word: "Dentistry!"  To that I would add: hot showers, antibiotics, tampons, TimTams  and votes for women. But I would trade all of those modern miracles (well, maybe not the TimTams) for the boon that Larry Page and Sergey Brin have bestowed upon the world: Google!

Here are just a few more of Google's accomplishments that I have discovered lately:
The Timer
A scenario that happens far too often in my house: I put something on the stove to simmer. Rather than stand in the kitchen staring at the pot for the next twenty minutes,  I wander off to my computer. Half an hour later, I smell burning.  

But that is all behind me now that I have discovered that I can type: set timer 20 minutes into the Google search box and voila! Twenty minutes later my computer emits a shrill beeping. By the time I have figured out how to switch it off, the thing has burnt anyway. But that's just me.

Happy Holidays
Arranging a trip? Need to know what dates holidays fall on? Whatever country you want to travel to, type in "Good Friday 2015" or "Canada Day" or "Thanksgiving" … Google is like Father Christmas, it goes everywhere.

What was that song again?
Type in "Songs by Lady Gaga" or "Songs by Justin Bieber' of even "Songs by Max Bygrave", and up comes a comprehensive list so you can find the one that you kept humming but couldn't remember its name.

I know the author, and there's a tree on the cover, but the title escapes me …
Even easier. "Books by Martin Amis", "books by Joseph Conrad" – up comes a lovely row of dust jackets. It doesn't have to be a famous author – Google even knows all the books by Shane Warne, for goodness' sake.

The Margaret and David Special
Type in "john ford films" or "marilyn monroe films" for a lovely row of movie posters for that director or actor. "Magnificent seven cast" will give you a row of head shots of all the actors who were in the cast. I can never remember the seventh Magnificent One at pub quiz!

Early to bed and early to rise …
I don't really know why anyone would want this information, but Google can tell you the time of sunrise and sunset for any town in the world. Of course it is a lovely toy and a useful timewaster … type in "Sunrise Melbourne Australia". 6:52am, says Google in a flash. Didn't even have to think about it. I wonder what about Melbourne, USA? Hah! They slept in. Lazy bludgers – sun only rose at 6:57am there! And so on, until I smell burning from the kitchen. Should have set the timer!  

Food Wars
What are the relative calories, carbs and sugar in two foods? Should I have potato or sweet potato? Ice cream or chocolate? Given a choice of green beans and chocolate, what would be the healthier option? Type in "green beans vs chocolate" and see what wishful thinking gets you.  Note: v doesn't do it, you have to put vs between the two contenders.

We all know Google is a calculator, and it should be old hat, but I just love telling it "6% of 3462" and watching the answer appear faster than Dustin Hoffman could come up with it. Of course Google doesn't stutter, but still.

Who needs Sadie if they have Google?
Would you prefer to put your feet up and read a book rather than vacuum? Type in "vacuum the living room" and Google will extrude a small robot vacuum cleaner … no, not really. But who knows. I can remember, as a child helping my mum with the washing up and saying: "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a machine to do this …" How we laughed.

And once you have finished playing with Google, type in "zerg rush". The yellow and red letters O from Google will float onto your screen and eat everything on it. You can try and shoot them down by clicking on them, but that will only slow them up a bit. Soon your screen will be blank except for a triumphant GG formed by the victorious Os. Play again? Maybe my shooting will improve. Wait! Do I smell burning?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Don't Look, Myrtle!

Manet: Luncheon on the Grass (detail)
One man's art is another man's abomination.  Some works inspire fear and loathing in the general public, only to be hailed later as masterpieces. Others remain on the hate list for ever.  There are various reasons for objecting to works of art, so let's look at a few examples:

It's scandalous, immoral and just not decent!
John Singer Sargent's Madame X is the poster girl for this category. Sargent painted Madame Virginie Gatreau standing in profile, leaning on a table. In the original version, the jewelled strap of her dress is falling off her right shoulder. The portrait caused outrage among public and critics alike. Sargent did paint the strap back on her shoulder, in a vain attempt to clean the "pornographic" image up a bit, but to no avail.

The shock/horror factor seems to have been caused as much by Mme X's décolletage and her extreme pallor, as by the strap falling off her shoulder. Virginie was in the habit of powdering her neck, arms and shoulders with powder to which a violet tinge had been added, suggesting a louche touch of unhealthy languor.  Vampires! Drugs! Sex! Sargent eventually had to relocate to London to escape the scandal. Madame X is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one of their priceless treasures.

Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Work of Satan! 
Albrecht Durer, (he of the famous pen-and-ink Praying Hands) was fond of a selfie: he made many self-portrait drawings, slipped self-portraits into some of his paintings and painted three lovely self-portrait oils. The third of these (1500) copped a lot of flak in the "Blasphemy!" category.

At that time, a profile or three-quarters view was the accepted norm for a secular portrait: the full frontal was reserved for divine figures. Durer's self-potrait bore a strong resemblance to the conventional representation of Christ: long hair, the direct gaze and the hand lifted as if in blessing.  (Holbein got away with painting Henry VIII in full-length frontal view in 1536, but only because the king insisted on that rather confrontational pose. No shrinking violet, King Henry!)

Yuck! Quick, Nurse, the kidney bowl!
In London in 1972, I saw performance artist Ben McGowan sit in a tub of pig's entrails. Unfortunately for me, I caught the exhibition on Day Three. Had I gone to the opening day, the smell might not have reach hazmat potency yet. They were not so particular about Occupational Health and Safety in 1972.  Luckily the exhibit was only on view for a week. I don't know how long it took to decontaminate the artist.
Tracey Emin: My Bed
Less ephemeral is Tracey Emin's "My Bed", which was exhibited at the Tate in 1999 as one of the shortlisted works for the Turner Prize. Had that been my unmade bed, I would have removed the stained knickers, the used condoms and the empty vodka bottle before I called The Man With A Van to take it to the Tate for all to see. This artwork generated a lot of uproar, because it combined the Yuck factor with the next category, which is …
They paid HOW MUCH for that thing??!!
The Saatchi Gallery bought My Bed for £150,000.  When it was auctioned by Christie's in 2014, it was bought by German businessman Christian Duerckheim for £2.54 million. It is currently in the Tate, on a ten-year loan from Herr Duerckheim.
Picasso: Weeping Woman
Two HOW MUCH?! art works in an Australian context, are Picasso's Weeping Woman, for which the NGV shelled out $1.6 million of taxpayer's money, and Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, for which the National Gallery of Australia paid $1.3 million. Outrage, shock and horror at the time, but over the years, public opinion has veered to "what a bargain!"
Pollock: Blue Poles
A couple of prime examples of the HOW MUCH?! / Yuck / Blasphemy!-combo are Piss Christ by Andres Serrano, depicting a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine, and Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, a painting of a black madonna surrounded by lumps of elephant dung and images of genitalia cut from porn magazines.
Serrano: Piss Christ (detail)

Cardinal Pell threw a hissy fit when the NGV exhibited Piss Christ, and Mayor Rudi Giuliani freaked and brought a lawsuit when the Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibited the black madonna.
Ofili: The Holy Virgin Mary
Despite death threats and public demonstations, Serrano received $15,000 for the Christ from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. Ofili sold his Madonna to David Walsh for an undisclosed sum and it is currently on display at his Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania.
Manet: Luncheon on the Grass

Who is to say what is art and what is abomination? Manet's Dejeuner sur L'Herbe, Robert Mapplethorpe's beautiful homo-erotic photographs, Whistler's Nocturnes or Cosimo Cavallaro's My Sweet Lord (a life-size, anatomically correct Jesus, sculptured in chocolate) … love them or despise them?

My Blue Ribbon for Dubious Taste has to go to that soppy piece of Victorian schlock, John Millais' Bubbles. But that's just me.
Millais: Bubbles


Sunday, 13 July 2014

How To Live Forever

Mary Cassatt frequently used Sara,
a little girl form her local village,
as a model.
Never mind the Philosopher's Stone. The road to immortality lies through the palette of a great painter. The models of the Masters live for centuries.
Sometimes the models are anonymous: Carvaggio chose his models from the streets of Rome – the saints we see, may be pickpockets or prostitutes or respectable citizens: we'll never know the stories behind the faces that look at us across a five hundred year gulf.
Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing
NGV, Melbourne
Some nameless regulars we come to recognise, like the old man who sat for St Peter in Rembrandt's Two Old Men Disputing, a treasure of the NGV. Both Rembrandt and Jan Lievens, with whom he shared a studio in Leiden, used the old bearded guy numerous times – he is always popping up in their work as various saints, apostles and prophets. Walk into any great art museum that has a Rembrandt or a Lievens, and you are likely to spot the venerable patriarch. He was probably just an old pensioner from the almshouse down the road, making a few stuivers by posing for the lads in the studio … little did he know that his real wage was not the few coins, but immortality.
Suzanne Valadon (Renoir)
Suzanne Valadon (Renoir)
Many of the models of the Impressionists have colourful stories. Suzanne Valadon was both a model and an accomplished painter in her own right.  She started her career as a circus performer, but after a bad fall, she took to modelling.  She was a favourite model of Renoir, who painted her many times. Degas encouraged her to paint and gave her lessons.

The job description of Model To The Impressionists did seem to include bedmate-duties. Suzanne is the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo, but his paternity is uncertain. She told Miguel Utrillo, a Spanish artist for whom she had also posed, that she was pregnant but that she was unsure who the father was. He willingly signed a legal document acknowledging paternity, saying 'I would be glad to put my name to the work of either Renoir or Degas!'

Symphony in White
Jo Hiffernan, "La Belle Irlandaise", was 'n beautiful Irish woman who modelled for some of Whistler's most famous paintings, notably the Symphony in White. She was his mistress for years, until he left her for a younger model (as they do). This was Maud Franklin, by whom Whistler had two daughters, leaving her in the lurch when she was pregnant with the second child. Still, perhaps the distress she suffered was worth it: still pretty after 150 years, Maud lives on in the Freer Gallery in Washington, as  Arrangement in White and Black.
Arrangement in Black and White
After Whistler left Jo, she kindheartedly took in and raised his son Charles, who was the issue of a brief fling he had with Louisa Hanson, a parlour maid. Not exactly a prince among men, Whistler, for all that he loved his mum.
Les Dormeuses (The Sleepers)
Gustave Courbet
Jo went on to model for (and sleep with) Gustave Courbet. She was the model for two of Courbet's most famous works, Les Dormeuses and The Origin of the World.  Both were notorious at the time: the former because of its lesbian theme, and the latter because it is a close-up of Jo's nether parts. They are no eyebrow raisers today – you can see much worse on the internet any time you like. And, sadly, so can your ten-year-old.
The Origin of the World
(Gustave Courbet)
Marie was a Parisienne model who was famous enough at the time to be known by only the one name, like Madonna or Cher. She was nineteen when Jules-Joseph Lefebvre used her as the model for Melbourne's iconic Chloe. He also seduced her and then abandoned her, moving on to new conquests. Marie died at 21 in distressing circumstances, but as Chloe she graces the walls of Young and Jackson's, still full of charm and beauty after 150 years.

Friday, 4 July 2014

"Say Cheese!" ... Iconic Photographs

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch

Photography has come along way since Louis Dagurerre started fiddling with his silver salts and iodine crystals in 1826. Thanks to technological advances, even beginners can turn out lovely photographs. There is no shortage of interesting and beautiful pictures for us to post online, where they ricochet back and forth endlessly between friends and strangers in e-mails and social media.
Among the countless images, there is a handful that absolutely stands out. Once seen, never forgotten. Here are some of them.

Man Ray's Le Violon d'Ingres (1933) is, as the title suggests, an homage to the painter: he pays tribute to the Ingres nudes, in particular The Bather and The Turkish Bath, but the photograph is also a visual pun that refers to the fact that Ingres was a talented violinist. Man Ray photographed the model Kiki in a turban, then painted the f-holes on the print and rephotographed it. Her arms are hidden, to emphasise the resemblance between the female shape and that of a violin.
Ingres: The Bather
Also from the 1930s is the photograph by Charles C. Ebbets of eleven construction workers, nonchalantly  seated on a girder eating lunch, 260 meters above the streets of New York. The picture was taken in 1932, during the building of the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center. No safety harnesses: I suppose OH&S wasn't much of a concern back then. The country was in the grip of the Great Depression, and perhaps people were desperate enough for work to disregard safety issues.

You don't have to be an acrophobic to remember this one!

This photo, taken during the roundup of Jews after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, is perhaps the most emblematic one of the Holocaust. The picture is part of the official SS report on the "police action", which consisted of the destruction of the ghetto and the transportation of the people to Treblinka, where they were gassed. 

The seven-year-old boy with his hands up (in case he attacked the soldier with the gun?) is an unforgettable and heart-wrenching image. Some of the faces in the picture, including the soldier pointing the gun, have been identified. The little boy's identity is still a mystery. He may or may not  be Arthur Chmiotak, gassed at Treblinka, or Tsvi Nussbaum, who survived and eventually reached the US via Israel. Over the years several fame-seekers have claimed to be the boy, but their stories have all been disproved.

The award-winning Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry is sometimes called "the Third World's Mona Lisa". The photograph was the cover picture of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine.  

Her identity remained a mystery until 2002, when a National Geographic team travelled to Afghanistan to try and find her. Until then, the country was pretty much closed to Western journalists by the Taliban.

She was positively  identified, through iris recognition technology, as Sharbat Gula, twelve years old when the picture was taken. At 14,  she was married off to Rahmat Gul, with whom she lives in their remote village in Afghanistan.

They have three daughters and Sharbat hopes that they may someday be allowed to get an education.  So do I.

A young photography student, Robert Wiles, took this photograph just minutes after Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the Empire State Building in May 1947.
Wiles was struck by her beauty as she lay, like Snow White, in the "bier" that the impact of her body had sculpted out of the roof of a Cadillac. Contrary to what one would expect after a fall from such a great height, there is no blood, no mutilation. Her skirt is decorously in place, her eyes are closed and her face serene, as if she is asleep. One elegant white-gloved hand is touching her pearls.

Robert Wiles named the picture "A Beautiful Death". LIFE Magazine published it in that month's issue. The image captured the imagination of the public and was endlessly reproduced. Andy Warhol included it in his "Death and Disaster" series.

Evelyn's suicide was an enigma: she was 23 years old, recently engaged to be married, and the cryptic letter she left behind did not explain her motive, merely saying "Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”  Ironically, she added: “I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me." 
Evelyn was not to have her last wish. Her picture and the remembrance of her tragic beauty live on. 

There are so many more iconic photographs that have become part of our collective memory: the mushroom cloud of the first atom bomb; Sherpa Tensing on top of Mount Everest; our planet seen from the Moon, like a beautiful blue marble; Neil Armstrong in his space suit; Marilyn with her white dress billowing up; Jackie Kennedy with her husband’s blood on her pink suit; little John Kennedy saluting his father's coffin; The man with the shopping bag in Tiananmen Square; the sailor kissing the girl on the day WW2 ended; three Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima ... And how about the fire-fighter giving the koala a drink on Black Saturday in 2009?  Magic!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Painting Cats

It is at least five thousand years since cats graciously condescended to live among us. In that time, we have paid homage to their grace and beauty in art, music and literature. 
Great artists, from Leonardo to Picasso, have painted cats. For the delight of my fellow-ailurophiles, here are just a few of the painted cats that I like.

Giovanni Lanfranco: Young Man Lying on a Bed with a Cat (c.1620)
An enigmatic and provocative picture, thought to be a self-portrait. The young man's smile and direct gaze seem to hold an invitation, in an intriguing gender role reversal. The tone and feel of the painting is reminiscent of Velasquez's "Rokeby Venus" or Ingres' "Grande Odalisque".  The cat he is stroking, adds to the sensuous mood.

John Everett Millais: A Flood (1870)
             This painting was inspired by the story of a baby in its cradle, swept away by the water during a great flood disaster in Sheffield. The child seems unconcerned by the danger and is entranced by the birds in the branches above her. The cat, who has hitched a ride on this little ark, is fully aware of the peril and her mouth is open in a terrified miaow. True to Pre-Raphaelite form, the picture has a Biblical flavour, evoking both Moses and Noah.

Paul Gauguin: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?  (1897) detail
This detail is from the huge (5’x 12’)  painting considered to be Gauguin's masterpiece. The painting is populated with figures symbolising our journey through life and the animals with whom we share the world. The fundamental questions about the meaning of life remain unanswered (unless you are a devotee of Douglas Adams, in which case you will know the answer is 42.) 

Pierre Auguste Renoir: Julie Manet (1887)
Julie was the daughter of Berthe Morisot and her husband Eugene Manet, younger brother of the painter Édouard Manet. As a child and an adult, she posed many times for her mother, her uncle and their Impressionist associates.
This portrait was done during the period when Renoir experimented with a style like that of Ingres, characterised by vivid colours, meticulous line and drawing, and an enamel-like finish. Julie herself thought it a good likeness, but Degas didn’t like it:  "by doing round faces, Renoir produces flower pots", he said.  

Sophie Gengembre Anderson, Awakening (1881)
Sophie, a Frenchwoman married to a Scot, lived in London where she was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. She specialised in children’s faces and genre pictures.  Some of her paintings veered toward the fey and faerie, so beloved of Victorian middle class taste. This double portrait of cat and girl, both gazing trustingly at the viewer, has an air of gentle affection. Her realistic style and genre subjects remind me of a Victorian Norman Rockwell. 
Suzanne Valadon: Study of a Cat (1919)
Suzanne Valadon,
who modelled for and was the lover of many of the famous Impressionists (Dégas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir among others), was a formidable artist in her own right. She painted landscapes, still lifes and female figures, frankly naked in an unashamed way that was shocking at the time.
She loved cats and painted many pictures of her own Raminou, including this one of him on the chair which looks so much like the one in Van Gogh's bedroom.
I can recommend "Suzanne Valadon: Mistress of Montmartre", by June Rose – an absorbing biography  of a fascinating woman. 
Mary Cassat: Sara Holding a Cat (c.1907-08)
Mary Cassat  was American but lived most of her adult life in Paris, where her art could flourish. With Berthe Morisot, she was one of Impressionism’s Grande Dames.
One usually associates  Cassat with "mother-and-child" pictures, but she also painted many single children, using children from her local village as models . She painted Sara several times, her sweet face and agreeable nature making her a perfect model.
Sara's gentle cuddling of the kitten and her tender look evokes Cassatt's leitmotif  of mothering.
Théophile Steinlen: Two Cats (1894) 
This picture of two elegant Art Nouveau cats is a poster by Steinlen for an exhibition of his prints and drawings. He worked closely with Toulouse-Lautrec and the two of them were the first great poster artists. Steinlen’s first and most famous poster (see top of page) is of the iconic black cat, advertising “Le Chat Noir”, the first nightclub/cabaret in Paris.

Giovanni Boldini: Girl with Black Cat (1885)
Like his contemporary, John Singer Sargent, Boldini was a fashionable portrait painter among the Great and the Good of Paris and London.
I love this picture, which is as much a portrait of the cat as of the girl. It is full of energy as she leans her weight backward to balance the rather large cat who is trying to escape from her arms. He already has one paw free and his stern gaze says: “Look out, I’m going to deploy claws any minute now!
I can recommend “The Cat in Art” by Steffano Zuffi. In it, you will find all the above cats and many more.