Eugen Hartung’s feline flautists
I have long had a particular interest in recorder iconography, the representation of recorders and similar instruments in works of art through the ages. There is much to learn from my survey of some 4,000 such items which is freely available on this website (Lander 1996–2023), but there is also much to enjoy.
Recently, I stumbled across a delightfully silly collection of coloured postcards depicting anthropomorphised cats in all sorts of common situations, first published in Switzerland in the years leading up to the second world war. Amongst this extensive suite of images, at least four feature recorders. The images themselves were the creation of the Swiss painter, muralist, theatre set designer, and children’s book illustrator Eugen Hartung (Wäldi, 1897 – Zürich, 1973). In addition to his cats, Eugen Hartung also painted postcards with mice, dogs, and even hedgehogs in a similar style.
In a classroom, a feline music teacher conducts his recorder band of eight cool cats, who are watched by a trio of appreciative mice. It crossed my mind that the composition the cats are playing might be by Aram Cataturian. And I think those rodents are in for a shock when the lesson is over.
A piano-playing mother cat conducts a quintet of three young cats and two kittens playing double bass, violin, guitar, and two recorders. I wonder if the music they are playing is by Claude DePussy.
Cat family members celebrate grandfather’s birthday with presents, a bunch of flowers, and a performance by a trio of kittens playing piano, violin, and recorder. I expect that their program featured Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmeowsik.
Watched by a robin and three mice, and chased by a calf, a group of young cats and their teacher hurry down an alpine path. A kitten leading the procession carries a flag; he is followed by two of the company playing the concertina and a small recorder. Surely The hills are alive with the sound of mewsic!
If you would like to learn more about Eugen Hartung and his cats and other beasts then the website maintained by Thomas Städeli (2019) will keep you amewsed for hours.
Louis Wain’s Cats Academy
Hartung may have been influenced by the English artist Louis William Wain (Clerkenwell 1860–Napsbury 1939) whose drawings and paintings consistently featured anthropomorphised large-eyed cats and kittens. Later in life, he was confined to mental institutions and was alleged to have suffered from schizophrenia. According to some psychiatrists, the onset of schizophrenia can be seen in his works, although the diagnosis is in dispute. Several of Wain’s illustrations depict cats playing musical instruments. In Miss Tabitha’s Cat Academy, two kittens play crudely drawn pipes that just might be recorders.
Wain is the subject of a recent film, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, a 2021 Amazon Studios production starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Wain and Claire Foy as his wife Emily Richardson. Catch it, if you can!
- Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2023. Recorder Home Page: Iconography. Accessed 26 April 2021. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/recorder-iconography/
- Städeli, Thomas. 2019. “Eugen Hartung (1897–1973).” Collector’s Homepage, Autogramme & Autographen. Accessed 26 April 2021. http://cyranos.ch/hartun01.htm
- Wikipedia (2022): Louis Wain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Wain
Cite this article as: Nicholas S. Lander. 1996–2023. Recorder Home Page: Cats Chorus. Last accessed 28 November 2023. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/cats-chorus/