I came across this lovely portrait on Pinterest some time ago and pinned it to my Calico Cat board there. (Pinterest, by the way, is where I often find images of calicos, and my Calico Cat board is where I collect them for potential later use here!) I looked at this portrait whenever I added something to my board and was always touched by the expressiveness of this seemingly simple picture.
Finally I went back to the original source of the image. I found out that it is a well-known portrait by the Welsh artist Gwen John (1876 – 1939) who did many now highly-regarded portraits of women in France, her adopted home. Some of these portraits are in the collection of the Tate Museum in Britain. At the time, it was thought her portraits were old-fashioned since they used subtle color and were traditionally posed, figurative portraits. Her reputation seems to be growing because of the beauty of her compositions, their depth, and that subtlety of color.
I was taken aback that I’d never heard of her–though her brother, Augustus John, was also a famous painter and she was Auguste Rodin’s mistress for some years. [Do I need to point out that she has used the calico colors in her self-portrait below? Look at the dress and the cameo pin at her throat!]
I found more of her work in the Tate Museum collection. From their website here, I learned that Gwen loved cats and had a number of them. The cat in the portrait above was named Edgar Quinet–after the street near her place in Paris–though the cat was female. At some point Edgar disappeared, and Gwen was quite upset.
Here is another of her cat sketches
Gwen John’s cats are tortoiseshell rather than calico, but the color scheme is the same. By the way, if I understand correctly, the difference between tortoiseshell and calico cats is that the black, red, and white colors in a tortoiseshell cats are mixed together rather than being in large, discrete patches.
So here is a tortoiseshell kitty
while here is a calico . . . well, make that two!
Here’s a last pencil and watercolor portrait by Gwen John
I think Edgar–if indeed this is also she–looks almost calico here because of the broad brushstrokes, but if tortoiseshell is the preferred term in Europe (as I’ve read somewhere), then tortie she is.