Wild cats of Daniel Giraud Elliot. Let’s have a look at the “Monograph of the Felidae”

March 3

The State Darwin Museum keeps the “Monograph on the Felidae, or Family of Cats” - a collection volume of 61.5 centimeters high and almost half a meter wide. In the 19th century, the book provided a thorough introduction to the species of wild cats and their life in their natural habitat. Its author is Daniel Giraud Elliot.

Varvara Mironova, head of the Darwin Museum reference and bibliographic department, curator of the rare book fund, told mos.ru about the way this interesting work had been published.

Daniel Giraud Elliot. The Monograph on the Felidae, or Family of Cats. XIX century. The State Darwin Museum

Books not for everyone

The American Daniel Giraud Elliot (1835–1915) was one of the most famous zoologists and ornithologists of his time. He got his start in his native New York, studying science at Columbia University. Elliot later got an appointment as head of the zoology department at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and later became a founding member of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and co-founder of the American Ornithologists' Union. Elliot was traveling extensively throughout Europe and Asia, studying the fauna of those places.

Daniel Giraud Elliot

Having received the inheritance, he was able to publish large series of books, elegantly designed volumes, including "The Family of Pheasants", "Birds of Paradise" and others. Elliot spared no expense, involving renowned artists, and using the most modern techniques, expensive paper and paints.

His books were not geared towards a wide audience, these gift editions in expensive beautiful binding were intended mainly for collecting. They were published in limited edition.

Wild cats

The "Monograph on the Felidae, or Family of Cats" — is one of such editions. The book was published in parts from 1878 to 1883, two or three issues a year. Customers could bind them under one cover the way they liked it. They paid for their copies in advance, and the books were published strictly for a certain number of interested parties. There were about 200-250 customers in total.

The copy, which is now kept in the Darwin Museum, arrived to the collection in 1918. Before that time, the book was kept in the personal library of Alexei Khomyakov, a hereditary nobleman and collector. Since childhood, he was fond of ornithology and zoology, and as an adult, he began collecting stuffed animals and rare books about animals and birds. It is unknown how he got the “Monograph on the Felidae”.

The book describes exclusively wild cats - lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars and others. The author gives a general description of animals: where they live, how they live, get food, what habits they have, how their name appeared. A description of one of the species takes about three pages. There was not so much information, so it cannot be said that “The Family of Cats” claimed to be innovative in the field of science: rather, it was just a beautiful album.

In the foreword, Elliot wrote: "Among all the families that belong to the class of mammals, the most attractive (bright for perception) is the family of cats."

The illustrations (42 in total) are true works of art and are very realistic. These are hand-painted lithographs. Real stars worked on them - German animal artist Joseph Wolf and Dutch artist Joseph Smith.

They depicted the cats in their natural habitat: hunting, while relaxing in a tree, at a watering hole. An uncomplicated plot was fundamental for the artists, because it allowed them to depict animals most clearly. There is an interesting fact: in one of the illustrations three lions at once can be seen by the water, and they are all representatives of different subspecies.

Everyone's favorite cat

The 19th century can be called the golden age of natural-scientific animalism. The beginning of the century before last was marked by the invention of photography, but it was significantly inferior to artistic images, could not compete with skillful drawings either in clarity or in palette. In addition, the technologies of that time did not allow photographing a wild animal in motion, and for a long time people remained models of photographers who could be persuaded to remain motionless for a long time in front of the lens. Many artists copied animals from stuffed animals, but they did it in such a way that there was no doubt: a living animal is depicted in natural conditions.

Daniel Giraud Elliot was not the only one among the admirers of charming predators. His contemporary, the artist Louis Eugene Lambert, nicknamed “Lambert of the cats”, was seriously engaged in cat painting. These animals attracted him with their gracefulness, flexibility, smooth (or, conversely, sharp) movements, as he said more than once. Initially, the main characters of the master's canvases were birds, but exactly until he made the painting “Cats, Kittens and a Parrot”. The Paris Salon in 1857 greeted the work with enthusiasm, and Lambert looked at cute domestic predators in a different way. In 1874 he received the Order of the Legion of Honor.

Louis Eugene Lambert. Cats, Kittens and a Parrot

Cats and kittens, old friends of humans, gradually conquered the world of art. The audience wanted to see the mustachioed-striped ones on the canvases, each new work evoked tender emotions. The French impressionists also enjoyed portraying cats.

For example, Edouard Manet in his famous painting “Olympia” placed a black cat at the legs of a naked woman. The animal here is not only a cute pet, but also a symbol of a cunning female nature, which at the time of the artist was often compared to a cat. Manet was inspired to portray the “Olympia” by the love story of his friend Charles Baudelaire, whose heart was just tormented by some cruel beauty.

A kitten from Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting “Woman with a Cat” is also known. The artist was in awe of female beauty, adored animals, and the painting in which he portrayed both of his weaknesses became one of the best in his career.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Woman with a Cat. 1875

The British expressionist Lucian Freud, who in 1947 painted the picture “Girl with a Kitten”, looked at this plot in a completely different way. The artist depicted a young woman frighteningly similar to the animal she holds in her hands - both having an absent, indifferent look. The girl's fingers grip the pet so tightly that it inevitably raises some worries about it.

Source: mos.ru

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