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The Cover
October 19, 2005

Black Cat on a Chair

JAMA. 2005;294(15):1867. doi:10.1001/jama.294.15.1867

Inscrutable, elusive, sly, faithless, divine, diabolical, inquisitive, ungovernable, unpredictable, feral, finicky, fastidious to a fault, ineffable. And entitled: to free bed and board, for example, to the best (or only) chair in the room, to roam on a whim, to return without explanation, to disappear for days and reappear suddenly as though it had never been missing. Not even the wordsmith Dr Peter Roget had adjectives enough to describe this charming tyrant we call the cat. But if words fail in description, the narrative of a cat’s life is simple enough, and succinct: too briefly a kitten, too soon a cat. It would be unthinkable, of course, to expect even one’s favorite cat to pose for a painting, as irrational, perhaps, as trying to walk a cat on a leash. Yet on a sunny day a century and a half ago, somewhere near Philadelphia—perhaps even within the city—a bold, courageous, certainly naive, soul attempted just that: Andrew L. von Wittkamp (?-1897) painted Black Cat on a Chair (cover ). Executed in oils on a canvas nearly three feet square, it is one of possibly two paintings known to be by him. Critics consider him an amateur “of considerable talent.” He was also a physician.

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