There’s a new cat at the Art and Architecture Library in the Cummings Art Building—and it’s well over 100 years old.
The 1869 cat is featured in an original etching by the famous French artist ÉDOUARD MANET (1832-1883). The feline is hidden away between the pages of a newly acquired book, the deluxe edition of an 1870 art classic called Les Chats, by JULES-FRANÇOIS-FÉLIX HUSSON, who used the pen name “Champfleury.” The etching is an aquatint that uses a powdered rosin to create a muted gray-blue background. Manet made the plate by hand, etching fine lines with a needle.
“Le Chat et Les Fleurs” is described as one of Manet’s most subtle combinations of the complex and simple. According to the late art historian Jean C. Harris, the etching shows the traces of Japanese influence, with its flatness of spatial arrangement and the “rather freely drawn and widely spaced strokes to describe the flowers,” which “help to animate the surface and to relieve the monotony of the uniform aquatinting.”
The etching had been sold separately as a stand-alone work prior to this edition. The new acquisition recalls a time when it was much more common for books to include original artwork, including engravings, etchings, lithographs and even paintings. Too often nowadays, they are razored out and sold separately, but this etching is presented as the author and artist intended. Les Chats is one of well over 1,000 such books at the Art and Architecture Library, which now has about 150,000 books on site.
Cat-lover and assistant art librarian ANNA FISHAUT discovered the book while shopping online at a favorite London rare books store and had to have it, “because it is one of the great artists’ books and because I have a penchant for cats.”
It’s not the only new cat in town—from the same British dealer, the library acquired a 1918 limited-edition book of original woodcuts from the Omega Workshops, affiliated with LEONARD and VIRGINIA WOOLF’s Hogarth Press. It includes woodcuts from ROGER FRY, VANESSA BELL, DUNCAN GRANT—and a cat by French artist SIMON BUSSY.
—CYNTHIA HAVEN, Stanford University Libraries