The animal sketches of Picasso tended to be simple, abstract and upbeat. Cat and Bird is a moody oil painting which captured the stealth like skills of our feline friends.
Cat and Bird came around in 1939, just before another masterpiece from this creative genius - the haunting, atmospheric Night Fishing at Antibes.
The black and whites dominate the eye, capturing the dangerous details of the aggressive cat. His claws are oversized and contrast against the dark background. His eyes similarly take your attention, with a simplicity of form which reminds us of Picasso's inspiration from primitive, pre-historic art.
Picasso may have intended this to be another of his politically motivated artworks, with the cat representing the rise of Fascism, biting into the bird, who is symbolising the common man.
Guernica remains his most famous political painting, but Cat and Bird underlines that more subtler alternatives can be found in other areas of his career.
Picasso and his Cats
Early on in his career, Picasso noticed the observational skills of cats. They would always be alert and aware of what ever was going on close by. An early pencil sketch in 1902 from his time in Barcelona captured a cat watching on as a nude couple lied beside each other.
Many of Picasso's animal portraits would depict a relatively straight forward scene of pure minded creatures, sometimes pets. Cats were multi-levelled in the artist's eyes, though. This also offered Picasso greater scope in his work.
He would go on to use cats in many different types of art mediums, most frequently oil on canvas, pencil sketches as well as two sculptures.
It was their reaction to humans making love which particularly intrigued a youthful Pablo. '... Have you noticed how much animals react to our lovemaking? They are attracted by it, it interests them, their blood seems to flow faster... especially in the case of dogs and cats...'
Picasso would sometimes wander the streets of Paris looking for food for his cats at a time when he was struggling financially. These problems would force his feline friends to learn how to fend for themselves and their ability to survive come what may was seen by Picasso as a valuable lesson learnt.
'... I can't stand luxury cats that lie purring on the sofa, but I do like stray cats with rumpled fur... They slink around, hunt birds, slip like evil spirits through the streets...' Indeed, Picasso himself would use similar stealth to forage for leftovers that would satisfy the hunger of these free living felines.
He appreciated this over pampered cats who laze around a middle class home from morning to night, and perhaps found that he could understand more about the animal when placing it under greater difficulties. Indeed, the Cat Seizing a Bird painting shown here displays the wild instincts of this temperamental creature.
Of course, that is not to say that he would ever have mistreated any animal under his responsibility, nor wish to. He just had a paternal style which was relaxed and somewhat unusual. That said, he did cause trouble as a teenager and would harass animals with a shotgun, though would soon mature into the animal-loving man that we remember him as.
Cat Seizing a Bird
By April 1939 Picasso was living in an apartment come studio in Rue des Grands-Augustins. Picasso dates this painting from the 22nd of that month. It features a barbaric scene of savagery, as a cat seizes and chews a small bird in its locked jaw. The charred creature continues to fight for survival, although we are never told of his eventual fate.
A clue to the survival of this bird is that he produced a similar work several days later, in which the bird is sadly dead.
The initial painting remained in his possession for his whole life, suggesting at his strong affections for it. The rise of Franco and Hitler at this time are symbolically represented by the extreme and inevitable violence shown by the cat in this artwork.