About Me

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Washington, United States
loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Sunday, December 31, 2017

bounding into the new year

Museum purchase funded by the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund
https://www.mfah.org (PD)
It's a beautiful day in the world of Sir Joshua Reynolds.  The year is 1777, and Mrs. Elisha Mathews, first wife of Francis Mathew 1st Viscount Llandaff, is posing in a gray dress that shows up well against the dramatically clouded sky.  This is a snapshot of a glamorous stroll for a poised, dignified gentlewoman 13 years married and the mother of an heir and a spare.  Now have a look at her dog, a pretty spaniel or setter, excited, happy, full of liveliness - all the feelings a fine lady cannot show openly if she wishes to stay dignified and fashionable, even though her face looks as if she's very well aware of her own good fortune.
I thought it was most clever of Sir Joshua to signal this lady's life and situation through her furry sidekick.  Also, this portrait reflects how I myself feel about the year to come:  soberly, wryly evaluating possibilities to myself, while another part wants to frisk and bark with hope and fresh days to come. 
Happy New Year's Eve to you all!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

a cat organ is spoofed, 1751

In 1751 a certain Mary Midnight wrote to the gentlemen of the Royal Society regarding her research and accomplishment on the cat organ: ". . . viz. A plain harpsichord, which instead of having strings and jacks, consists of cats of different sizes, included in boxes, whose voices express every note in the gamut, which is extorted from the imprison’d animals, by placing their tails in grooves, which are properly squeezed by the impression of the organist’s fingers on the keys."  She goes on to make some points about the musicality of cats, the delicacy of a castrated male cat's voice, and how her cats are aligned in two rows for gentle and hard squeezing depending on meow.
While there actually were cat organs (here's one with not-actual cats, but you get the idea), Mary Midnight didn't have one, she wasn't really Mary Midnight, and she wasn't even really writing the Royal Society.  The writer was actually Christopher "Kit" Smart, best known for the poem Jubilate Agno (and its section "For I will consider my cat Jeoffry").  The letter was a spoof published in his magazine The Midwife.
A long excerpt of the letter is found here at History Extra.  The essay just afterward points out that this is the kind of wacky English humor that directly led to, say, Monty Python - and then namechecks Terry Jones' whack-a-mouse squeak organ.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

sitting so beautifully

thanks british library flickr (PD) id: 003471451
Here's a soulful portrait of Greyfriars Bobby. It's from the pages of Aileen Aroon: a memoir, with other tales of faithful friends and favourites, written (and illustrated? The book doesn't say!) by Gordon Stables and published in London in 1884.  I can't let the dedication go by unremarked: "This Book is dedicated to my wee Daughter FREDABEL INEZ GORDON, By her fond Papa."

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

wordless vintage wednesday redux

from the museum collection

Sunday, December 24, 2017

wishing you all

Leonard A. Lauder Collection of American Posters, Gift of Leonard A. Lauder, 1984 https://www.metmuseum.org
I borrowed from the great American illustrator Edward Penfield to help me say:

Merry Christmas!
I am grateful for every one of you
and wish you warmth and joy today and always.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

awaken like a hedgehog

Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1920. https://www.metmuseum.org
Here's a tiny glazed soapstone hedgehog scaraboid (roughly beetle-shaped amulet) from Egypt ca. 1981–1295 B.C.  Right about now I wouldn't mind a hedgehog amulet:  because they hibernated, and survived the desert terrain, the Egyptians took them for symbols of resurrection.  That is something I particularly like in these days just past the winter solstice, as we navigate the cold and the dark and look for the days to lengthen oh just a little.  Here's another hedgie from the Met, this one on a string.

Friday, December 22, 2017

a puppy is sent a letter in heaven

Found on Bored Panda, but in this season of love, giving, and memories, I want to make sure all of you get to see this.

"I would be your ears when you go completely deaf for 15 years if that was all that was wrong. . ."
Kolohe was a woolly-coated husky puppy who arrived in Stephanie's life the very week she got married.  Though she was nervous about the responsibility at first, Stephanie quickly found Kolohe to be one of the very best parts of her new life.  Whether being a scamp, soaking up tears with fluffy husky fur, or romping in the dog park, he brought Stephanie all kinds of unexpected comfort and joy.  But very sadly, Kolohe developed a degenerative brain disease and rapidly declined.  Stephanie and her husband had to let him go at all of 9 months.
Right about now you're saying, "Why are you putting me through this anguish!?"  Here's why:  The letter Stephanie wrote to Kolohe in heaven is heartfelt and full of beauty, and so is the woodland arrangement against which, in the last photos, he lies.  They loved to walk in the woods together; boughs, bark and twigs are piled up in lavish tribute against Kolohe's fur, as if the trees themselves had bent down to pick him up and give him a ride to the stars.

Sad? Yes.  But also full of gratitude and grace - some of the best things our pets inspire in us all, and they do it daily.  See this lovely tribute here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Not about house pets, but really too odd to pass up.

From a book of letters to the Spectator: A doctor leaves behind a human skull.  Robins move in, and Life and Death are summarily mused upon.
In a disused stable behind my house there hangs an inverted human skull (left by a brother, now a doctor in India). On the orbit, and resting against the wall, about five feet from the ground, a robin has built her nest. There were six eggs, two of which are now hatched, and the birds have not deserted their home, notwithstanding the fairly constant observations of the family, which includes three boys, aged respectively two, four, and six years. The birds built although the gardener was constantly going to and from the stable, where the garden tools are kept.
May 16, 1908.
Note.—Mr. W. H. Hudson has wished that when he is dead an adder will make a hibernaculum of his skull. I should prefer the robins. O Death, where is thy victory, when thou ministerest thus to the uses and victory of life?

-- From Dogs, birds & others : natural history letters from "The Spectator." / chosen, with an introduction and notes, by H. J. Massingham, with a preface by John St. Lee Strachey. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921). 71.

Monday, December 18, 2017


gift of Paul Schweitzer, https://collections.artsmia.org
This 1930's color woodblock print by Ohara Shoson is called "Pug Dog," but really it's a Japanese Chin. Shoson was known for his kacho-e - elegantly simple portrayals of flora and fauna - which he geared toward the Western market. 
-- Note: Shoson worked under a number of names: Ohara Koson and Ohara Hoson are the same artist. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

the pet mountain lion, 1888

thanks british library flicker (PD)
In which I am surprised that the story does not end in utter disaster for somebody.

A Most Uncanny Pet—The Chicago Herald
 Earl B. Wittich of Livingston, Mass., has a full-grown mountain lioness, which is his favorite pet. It is as tame as a cat and playful as a little dog. It sleeps on the bed with its master, making a purring noise like a cat when it lies down to rest. Mr. Wittich obtained the lioness when it was a cub, and has taught it many tricks. This beast has a horrible penchant for small children, yet so wonderful is the control Mr. Wittich has obtained over it that he can make it lie down and lay a baby across its neck, but he never takes his eyes off the animal while making this dangerous test of power, for from the working of its paws and the vicious gleam of its eyes it gives evidence that if the keeper's back was turned the infant's destruction would be speedy and certain. Mr. Wittich has also a favorite dog which he has taught to wrestle with the lioness and perform many tricks. For instance, he will make the mountain beast lie down upon her side, place a piece of raw beefsteak on her head and send the dog to take it, which the animal will perform if the master's eye is upon her; but, in all probability, if his vigilance was relaxed for an instant both beefsteak and dog would disappear in short order.

(Sound of Curator's head shaking with disapproval.)
-- From Current Literature, Volume 1 (Edward Jewett Wheeler and Frank Crane, eds), Curret Literature Publishing Company, 1888. 256.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Pieter de Hooch [Public domain, Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
In this warm, intimate piece, Pieter de Hooch (Dutch, 1629-circa 1684) shows us "A Mother's Duty." How do you ever pick one out of a busy housewife's day?  As it happens, this particular responsibility consists of delousing a child's hair.  This was a common task until fairly recently in domestic history, time-consuming, but good for some quiet time together.   Here we see mother tending to child in an unhurried fashion, making sure to clear away this small threat to well-being, guarding against disease and discomfort. 
Meanwhile, speaking of guarding, the family dog sits relaxed yet staunch before the open door, ready to evaluate all comers against the family peace.   After all, you never know when that pesky cat might try to get in.  So de Hooch is showing us two kinds of devotion, two kinds of safeguard.  Both as true as you get.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

vintage wordless wednesday redux

from the museum collection

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

little beggar

courtesy national galleries of scotland
Here's "Olaf the Dog Begging," by William Bell Scott (Scottish, 1811-1890), dated 1862.  A friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was also no slouch at a winsome pet sketch, Scott wrote intimate accounts of Rossetti's Pre-Raphaelite circle.  Known for his landscapes and history paintings, Scott also added industrial themes to his work, one of the first British artists to do so. 
And then he took time out one day to dash off a beady-eyed supplication from his best friend.

Credit line: Purchased 1950.  Link to object webpage here.

Monday, December 11, 2017


Your friendly Curator has been tending to some other biz, so in apology for not keeping up quite as usual, here's a Vimeo clip of a cat playing with bubbles.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

the parachutist cats

CC BY-SA full attribution below
While I absolutely cannot say I approve of making cats parachute (though I'm sure it was probably only from a few feet up), I adore this poster.   Found originally at Europeana, this gloriously confident kitty is from the collection at the Circus Museum, online in the Netherlands.  See that record here. Now, finding anything about the Cirque Mexicain was tough, but I did find and translate the following from this page:

 Silvestrini (of the Amoros-Silvestrini brothers, who promoted the most circuses at this time and place - curator) was the introducer of Italian circuses in Spain. Two of them began their tour in Girona: the Circus Jarz (also published as Italian, 1957) and the Aurora Italian Circus (also called Casartelli, 1958). Together with the Circo Cristiani (1958), the three maintained the essence of the circus of yesteryear, familiar, with versatile artists, capable of presenting numbers of diverse disciplines. In some seasons, the Amorós-Silvestrini were associated with the Valencian Salvador Hervás, presenting shows like Circo Mexicain. When this circus visited Girona during the fairs of 1959, journalist Jordi Oms interviewed the trainer Gerardi inside the cage, surrounded by seven lions. 

Citation as found at Europeana: Cirque Mexicain The parachutist cats. Organization for Europe and 
Africa, Salvador Hervas http://europeana.eu/portal/record/2021603/teylers_col28_dat11512_TEY0010005765.html. Manzal Circus Museum http://www.circusmuseum.nl/teylers:col28:dat11512:TEY0010005765. CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

wordless vintage wednesday redux

from the museum collection

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

thomas bewick notes a sagacious dog

see below for attribution
Thomas Bewick (English, 1753-1828) was a naturalist and wood-engraver whose studies and work gained him an excellent reputation as an artist and scholar.  Here's an excerpt from his letters in whch an ancient sheepdog brings him - eventually - just the right model:

* * *
I shall, however, notice an instance, as it happened to occur between my two friends, Mr. Smith, of Woodhall, and Mr. Bailey. The latter, in connection with his report on Cheviot sheep, had given a bad figure of a ram of that breed. This was construed into a design to lessen the character of Mr. Smith's Cheviot sheep, on which, in April, 1798, the latter sent for me to draw and engrave a figure of one of his rams, by way of contrasting it with the figure Mr. Bailey had given. The colour Mr. Smith gave to the business was, not to find fault with Mr. Bailey's figure, but to show hew much he (Mr. Smith) had improved the breed since Mr. Bailey had written his report. Whilst I was at Woodhall, I was struck with the sagacity of a dog belonging to Mr. Smith. The character for sagacity of the Shepherd's Dog was well-known to me, but this instance of it was exemplified before my own eyes. Mr. Smith wished to have a particular ram brought out from amongst the flock, for the purpose of my seeing it. Before we set out, he observed to the shepherd, that he thought the old dog (he was grey-headed and almost blind) would do well enough for what he wanted with him. Before we reached the down, where the flock was feeding, I observed that Mr. Smith was talking to the dog before he ordered him off on his errand; and, while we were conversing on some indifferent subject, the dog brought a ram before us. Mr. Smith found a deal of fault with the dog, saying, Did I not order you so and so? and he scolded him for bringing a wrong sheep, and then, after fresh directions, set him off again to bring the one he wished me to see. We then returned home, and shortly after our arrival there, the dog brought the very ram wanted, along with a few other sheep, into the fold, where I took a drawing of him.
* * *

From Bewick, Thomas, 1753-1828. A Memoir of Thomas Bewick. Newcastle-on-Tyne: Printed by Robert Ward for Jane Bewick , 1862. 182-3.

The illustration: By Thomas Bewick - http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/345995This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons by as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60859319

Monday, December 04, 2017

put the cat in charge of the cheese: proverbs

From a book of Arabic proverbs, published in 1891:

  • Put the cat in charge of the cheese, and girdle him with the sausage.
  • They gave the bear silk to wind into balls. (Said of someone given a task they are unfit to do)
  • The cat eats his supper. (Said of someone who's been duped)
  • A dog laden with piasters. (A rich miser, or someone wealthy who chooses to live poorly)
  • Accustom a dog to your kindness, but don't accustom a man to it. (The dog will be grateful - the man won't.)
  • He who needs the dog says to him "Good morning, my lord."
  • They said to the wolf: Do not walk behind the sheep, their dust will hurt your eyes.  He replied: Their dust is kuhl (kohl, eyeliner) to my eyes.
  • Can you make ducks afraid of drowning?
From Jewett, James Richard, 1862-1943. Arabic Proverbs And Proverbial Phrases. New Haven: American Oriental society, 1891, passim.

Friday, December 01, 2017

we have often sat just so here at the museum

public domain re hathi trust
"I liked to go into the garden.  She used to sit under a tree and read a book, and I used to sit on the seat close to her, and if she stroked me I purred loud." This illustration is from page 129 of Abby Morton Diaz's 1881 book,  The Cats' Arabian Nights, Or, King Grimalkum. (Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.)