Cats in Museums

Like the Ancient Egyptians before us, we live in a world in which cats are the highest power. You can almost hear the archaeologists of the future “Behold,” they would grandly declare before their students of Internet Archaeology who sift through digital debris in search for the truth about life in the 21st Century. “The wonders of the Internet Age! In which cats were universally revered. Look at all this evidence of cat-worship,” they would continue as they gesture towards a futuristic screen full of images from Twitter or Pinterest or Buzzfeed.

Maybe, just maybe, one of those fictional and hypothetical students will look at the plethora of pictures and see this little blog post in which this Museum Adventurer tries his best to pay homage to our feline overlords.

Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s explore cats in museums! And, yes, I’m including Big Cats in this too.

Cats of the British Museum

I thought I’d begin where I’m most comfortable in the museum world, the British Museum. Now, the BM is quite literally full of cats. Full of them, I tell you! So full of felines is it that they even have a book dedicated to The Cats of the British Museum.

The troop of tabbies starts before you even set foot in the building, with a couple of these majestic creatures guarding the north entrance.

A lion sitting outside the entrance to the British Museum
A lion sitting outside the entrance to the British Museum

(If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot quite a few lions at the Great Russel Street entrance too, actually there are *loads* of lions all over the place)

Another notable cat is the Gayer-Anderson Cat.  Gayer than what, I’m not entirely sure, but this regal feline is part of the museum’s famous Egyptian collection.

Gayer-Anderson Cat
Gayer-Anderson Cat

There are also rumours of a phantom feline that haunts some of the rooms of the BM, hunting for ghost mice…

Science Cats

Some Museum Cats don’t fall under into the traditional category of mysterious moggy. Some are not object d’art that can be arranged to make a tableau of tabbies. No, some Museum Cats do science. Or, at least help others so science. 

Some of these aren’t necessarily the cutest of specimens, but they are still Museum Cats and as such, they deserve our respect. This is one of the Horniman Museum‘s “double preparations” specimens, uncovered during their recent Bioblitz project. This is a domestic cat showing off some of its *ahem* inner beauty.

Domestic Cat
Domestic Cat
Photo by Russell Dornan

Now, who wants to see some Science Kittens?

Bisected Pregnant Cat, Grant Museum
Bisected Pregnant Cat, Grant Museum

This particular example of a Museum Cat came from Londonist’s Pinterest Page and she’s part of the Grant Museum‘s collection. If you look closely, you can see some Science Kittens. 

And then there are the taxidermy Science Cats, like this fellow from the Museum fur Naturkunde. I bumped into him when I was exploring museums in Berlin and he made a lasting impression. 

Badly taxidermied cat from the Museum fur Naturkunde
Badly taxidermied cat from the Museum fur Naturkunde

I’m sure you can see why.

Cats of Instagram

If you use popular photo-sharing social media network Instagram, then at some point it is safe to say you have looked at a fair few pictures of cats. By a fair few, of course I mean “an absolute ton”. To be honest, I’ve shared a picure of some cats on Instagram myself. Intrepid Museum Adventurer, that I am, I shared a picture of some Museum Cats. 

This picture to be precise.

Two porcelain cats from Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Two porcelain cats from Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

These curious kitties come from Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and (at the time of writing) this is my most popular picture ‘pon Instagram. 

Curious Kittens

A not-so-long time ago, I went on a minor quest to track down the legacy of famed Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter and his Museum of Curiosities. This quest turned up all sorts of things, including an example of his legendary taxidermy skills still on display in a local museum. It also led me to finding this incredible taxidermy tableau of some kittens tying the knot.

The Kittens' Wedding by Walter Potter
The Kittens’ Wedding by Walter Potter

I still can’t decide if this is amazing or disturbing. Maybe its a bit of both.

The Most Famous Museum Cats of All

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the most famous Museum Cats of all; the cats of Russia’s State Hermitage. Earlier I mentioned a rumoured ghost cat in the British Museum, and I wasn’t being fanciful when I pictured him chasing ghost mice through the galleries. Mice, like all kinds of pests, can make a home in a museum. Mice, like all kinds, aren’t necessarily a good thing for a museum.

How do you rid yourself of mice?

Get the cats in.

The Hermitage Cats are unique in the museum world, because they continue in their original purpose; keeping the galleries mice free. 

 Catherine the Great famously dubbed the cats “the guardians of the Picture Galleries in the Hermitage”. As a way of saying “Thank You” to these loyal servants, the Hermitage Magazine commissioned Eldar Zakirov, a 30-year-old graphic artist to produce portraits of them. Below is one example, but you can see some more over here.

Portraits of Cats as Classical Paintings by Eldar Zakirov
Portraits of Cats as Classical Paintings by Eldar Zakirov

So there we have it, a tribute to Museum Cats. You know, one of these days I’m going to have to go to the Cat Museum in Amsterdam. It sounds like its right up my street.

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