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.
Southgate MT. Black Cat on a Chair. JAMA. 2005;294(15):1867. doi:10.1001/jama.294.15.1867
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