FELIX VALLOTTON (1865-1925, Swiss)

Greatly influenced by Holbein, Durer and Ingres and later by Japanese print art, the Swiss painter Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) produced both woodcuts and paintings in which he sometimes included cats.  His woodcuts consist of a black background with only a few white lines to outline his images.  In a series of six woodcuts called Instruments de musique, one of the woodcuts features a cat standing on a chest of drawers with its tail up next to a solitary man playing a flute.

The cat playfully seeks attention and brings lightness to the composition. In another black and white woodcut, La Paresse (Laziness), dated 1896, a nude woman lies across a patterned bedspread and reaches for a white cat. Both woman and cat are white, the color invoking the idea of purity, hinting of an emotionless sensuality. Painted in the same year, Women with Cats is almost reminiscent of Paul Gaugin’s composition of Tahitian women seated on the floor.  Here the cats are indisputably a symbol of fertility. Vallotton cannot be categorized as either an impressionist or a post –impressionist.   Part of Les Nabi (prophet in Hebrew) group of Parisian painters,  Félix Vallotton was mainly interested in depicting a specific moment in time using color, space and abstraction.  Vallotton’s work is very different from his friends Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard who also included cats in their works.  Even though they were also part of the Les Nabis, their works are not quite as abstract as Vallotton’s.