The Cat's Paw (1824) by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-73). Source of image and text: “Studies and Sketches by Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A.” (1875): 289-90. “Lent by Frederick A. Millbank, Esq., M.P.” [Click on image to enlarge it.] Formatting and text by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Hathi Trust and the University of Michigan and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document, or cite it in a print one.]

Commentary in the Art-Journal

Landseer's pictures of animals may be divided into several classes. There is, for instance, the realistic class; by which is meant the dog, or whatever other animal is represented, as it is ordinarily seen. . . . Another class is the pathetic. . . . A third class of Landseer’s subjects is the humorous; and it is a large one comparatively, for in it must be included many pictures which have, as it were, a droll, as well as a sedate, side; such are ‘Jack in Office,’ ‘There’s no place like home,’ ‘Alexander and Diogenes,’ ‘Laying down the Law;’ but among the decidedly humorous will be placed ‘Comical Dogs,’ ‘The Monkey who had seen the World,’ and ‘The Cat’s Paw.’ of this last the original idea is engraved here. 'The picture painted from it was exhibited at the British Institution in 1824, when the artist was about twenty-two years of age; it was then sold for £100, and was subsequently bought for £120 by the Earl of Essex, in whose possession it is at the present time. The popularity of the subject has caused it to be engraved twice; first as a small book-plate, by the late Robert Graves, in 1830, which was published in the “Forgetme-not;” and secondly, on a comparatively large scale, by Mr. C. G. Lewis, for Messrs. Henry Graves & Co. We have remarked that the sketch here engraved—it realised 85 guineas at the sale of the deceased artist’s works—was the “original idea” only of the finished picture; for in reality it is little else. In the painting the monkey and its unfortunate prisoner the cat are almost identical with their representatives in the sketch, but there all verisimilitude ends. The kind of chafing-dish before us, in which the chestnuts are roasting, is transformed into a well-made oven, somewhat similar to those used by laundresses for heating their irons; and behind it is a table whereon is a large basket containing some cloths, from among which peer out two or three kittens, attracted by the cries of their mother; one of them seems to be making its way out of the basket, as if it would attempt to rescue the victim from the arms of its tormentor, which is so ingeniously employing the paws of the cat instead of its own to "handle" the hot chestnuts. In the ketch is the head of a dog, evidently enjoying what, if it could could speak, it would call “the fun of the thing." Both the drawing, in pen and ink, and the painting are irresistibly droll. [289-90]


“Studies and Sketches by Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A.” Art-Journal (1875): 289-92. Hathi Trust version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 24 March 2014

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Last modified 25 March 2014