The Met is home to thousands of works of art featuring one of history’s most loved and regal creatures, the cat. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, an astonishing 74 million cats are currently owned as pets in the U.S.A., making them America’s most popular pet. Nearly 1 in 3 households owns one. Though they’re believed to sleep nearly 70% of their lives, cats are known for their loving, playful personalities and companionship as much as for their independence. Here, we highlight a few of the Museum’s most beloved felines.
Egyptian Cats. Evidence suggests that cats were first domesticated by Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom for their mouse-hunting abilities, and by the New Kingdom were widely accepted as household companions. Many depictions of cats survive from ancient Egypt, partly due to the fact that they were the sacred animal of the goddess Bastet, a benevolent deity known to be pacified by ritual offerings. In her honor, mummified cats were donated at temples in her honor, sometimes preserved in ornate bronze or wooden containers. Cats also frequently appeared in the tomb scenes of their owners, either represented as loving companions or in sport, where they were used to flush out birds from the marshes of the Nile for hunting.
Steinlen’s Cats. Swiss-born graphic artist Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (French, 1859–1923), drew cats throughout his long career with unvarying grace and skill. Arguably one of art’s greatest lovers of cats, his book Des chats: images sans paroles (Cats: Pictures without Words), ca. 1898, depicts their varied personalities and antics. A copy of the book is part of the Museum’s collection, and Steinlen’s cats have served as inspiration for some of The Met Store’s most-loved products.
The Favorite Cat. Lithographed and published by American artist Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), this charming image was created in 1838–46. He was co-principal of Currier & Ives (with James Ives), renowned in the latter half of the nineteenth century for their wildly popular lithographic prints, which featured images as diverse as holiday scenes, landscapes, and political cartoons. A friend of P.T. Barnum, of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, Currier was a known animal lover who kept horses at his Massachusetts estate.
Can’t get enough? Download the Met Chrome Extension, which delivers an image of a cat from the Museum’s collection each time you open a new browser tab. Take a few of our favorite felines home by clicking here to shop.