Odes on a Cat Drowned in a Goldfish Bowl

Posted in Art Market by Caitlin Smits on April 24, 2016
catwilliamblake01-768x1007.jpgWilliam Blake, illustration for “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat,” in ‘The Poems of Thomas Gray (1797-98), watercolor with pen and black ink and graphite on paper with inlaid letterpress page (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Taking as a point of departure a painting at auction this week at Bonhams, Allison Meier highlights for Hyperallergic  readers some of the artistic responses to Horace Walpole’s cat, which drowned in 1747, including William Blake’s extraordinary watercolors.


Attributed to Martin Ferdinand Quadal (Nietschitz 1736–1811 St. Petersburg), Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes (Estimate: £1000–1500 / US$1400–2200)

Allison Meier, “18th-Century Odes to a Cat that Drowned in a Goldfish Bowl,” Hyperallergic (8 April 2016).

A cat that fell into a goldfish bowl in 1747 and subsequently drowned from her pyrrhic hunt inspired an unlikely series of artworks in the 18th century. Selima, as the unfortunate feline was called, was the companion of art historian and author Horace Walpole, and like any eccentric aristocrat worth his earldom, he asked friend and poet Thomas Gray to pen a tribute. Gray went beyond a simple epitaph and scribed a whole mock elegy for the cat, called “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.” . . .

The painting is included in Bonhams Old Master Sale this Wednesday (27 April 2016, Auction 23252, Lot 200).