In Part I we paused at the end of the 18th century, when cats realised their collective bet on superstition, witchcraft and other supernatural powers had been pathetically lost. Instead of respect cats were getting as much bad publicity as BP in 2010, except that they didn’t have BP’s cosmically expensive PR gurus to save the day.
The ingenuous canine strategy of simpleton’s loyalty, manifested through yelping, barking, chasing cats, licking an owner’s hand and shagging an owner’s leg was a triumph. It was making the cats’ loss all the more humiliating.
In today’s marketing terms, cats needed to reposition their brand, that is, to suggest a benefit for the human consumer that would be meaningful and different to the dogs’ proposition.
Cats still found it difficult to think of themselves as weaker animals than dogs, so the first idea was to call the Big Brother, the Lion, for support. Cats charmed Theodore Gericault and Eugene Delacroix into representing Cat Power. Both started using cats as models for their lions and tigers. They had such an interest in feline anatomy that one may misattribute their sketches to Leonardo, who, as we know from Part I, thinking in much the same way, had cats hooked up to dragons.
Alas, as cats were soon to discover, lions would not offer a 24/7 help line, and Man never respected anyone who could be kicked and couldn’t kick back, or hire a lawyer.
It took cats some 30 years to come up with a better idea. A new urban class was reinventing itself in Paris, the artistic centre of the First and Second Industrial revolutions. The ancient rituals of marrying off French princesses to Austrian princes were dying out, taking with them the more common bans on sex before marriage and out-of-class unions. In fact, the rise of capitalists and the impoverishment of “landed aristocracy” made those unions quite desirable for all the concerned parties. A minor problem of insufficient beauty on the aristocratic side, eroded by centuries of cross-breeding, had been quickly resolved by the rise of clandestine prostitution. It was the dawn of the modern relationship.
Cats put their efforts behind the New Relationship idea. They first approached Edouard Manet, who was contemplating the same subject matter while working on his Olympia (1863).
Here, the black cat represents everything that made Olympia a prize whore of Paris. Still, the cat is rather an accessory here. It requires a human figure to send a message.
A little more effort, and Manet came up with a drawing that had only cats.
It doesn’t really matter that tail anatomy leaves much to be desired or wondered about in this drawing (by the way, are you surprised Manet would draw something like that? Because I was)
What’s important is that cats stopped being flat-character animals here. Now they had three-dimensional personalities, fit for telling stories. Dogs, by the way, could never reach this height of anthropomorphism. They have never gone beyond a rather silly similarity between them and some of their owners.
By the way, Nelly was also a high-class courtesan, which makes one wonder if her Maltese dog was just as indiscriminate. You see, it’s not the dog that creates character, it’s the portrayed woman.
The next artist who reinforced feline supremacy was Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, a Swiss painter whose work is often and unjustly misattributed to Toulouse Lautrec.
The black cat is especially intimidating. It rules the nightlife of Paris which at the time was the golden standard of wasting away health and money. In other words, it stood for quality lifestyle. Cats became the kings of glamour, which even then was already taking the shape of a religion that it is today.
About the same time, Aubrey Beardlsey, from across the channel, made a prophetic statement about the role of cats:
Cat was getting bigger than Man, softly guiding human emotions towards their sinister ends.
Picasso issued two cat warnings in 1939, exposing a cat for what it was, a merciless carnivorous hunter:
But it was too cubist and too late. Men had already been plucked, the moment Franz Marc, a German expressionist, replaced cat fur with pure emotion back in 1912:
In a few more decades the internet was invented.
Now, according to conservative estimates, cats are responsible for 50% of our emotions: they satisfy the basic human needs of closeness, harmony, and love, along with the minor ones of having something cute to share online, and something fluffy to play with.
I also have a painted cat now. It was a gift from the artist, Vladimir Sevostianov. It shows a cat, but in fact represents a mafia don from a tiny Russian village. It can scare the only dog (a German shepherd) that lives there into stepping aside from its bowl of food.
There is a theory which states that cats subtly nudge our civilisation to an enslaved state when two humans won’t be able to establish a relationship unless a cat representative allows, and mediates it. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
PS I am sorry to be late with answering comments: I am on vacation, currently roaming the Gallery of Modern Art in Milan. Thank god it seems to be losing in its competition with fashion boutiques: there are no tourists, and plenty of space.