Photography: in and out of focus

Photography continues to be a major part of our contemporary art collecting, and here are just a few new titles to tempt you into the building (and one you can read at home):

Why it does not have to be in focus : modern photography explained by Jackie Higgins

Thames & Hudson , 2013

Thames & Hudson , 2013

If you have ever found yourself standing in front of a contemporary photograph in a gallery and thought to yourself, “I could do better than that with my camera-phone”, then this book might be just the thing. In the author’s words: “This book reveals why a photograph need not be crisply rendered or ‘correctly’ exposed, colour-balanced, framed or even composed by the photographer in order to have artistic merit. Artists are pushing the boundaries of photography in so many ways that their efforts are arguably redefining the medium.” Not convinced? Read on…..

The Beatles: six days that changed the world, February 1964: photography by Bill Eppridge

Rizzoli, 2014

Rizzoli, 2014

The Beatles……first trip to America……Life photographer Bill Eppridge…..enough said.

The Taqwacores : Muslim punk in the USA by Kim Badawi

powerHouse Books, 2009

powerHouse Books, 2009

I’m not making this up you know. It is a seriously weird and wonderful world we live in, and if I confess that I didn’t even know that Muslim Punk existed before I saw this book of photographs, would you think less of me? Taqwacore, as author Michael Muhammad Knight explains in a pretty feisty foreword, brings together the concepts of piety or god-consciousness and Punk Rock: “Is it really Islamic? Is it really Punk? I can’t speak of Tqwacore as a ‘movement’,…..all I can do is point to these pictures. Here, this is Taqwacore. This collection of human beings, my friends, these moments.” Good enough.

Women of vision : National Geographic photographers on assignment: foreword by Ann Curry

National Geographic Books, 2014

National Geographic Books, 2014

A lovely book documenting some of the great women photographers who have provided photo-essays for National Geographic over the last decade or so. Ann Curry in her foreword asks the simple question: “As you look at the images on these pages, do any seem as though they could have been taken only by a woman?” A near impossible question to answer, and at the end of the day the images themselves tell us all we need to know about the sense of compassion and empathy the various photographers have for their subjects.

Calling the shots : Aboriginal photographies (ebook): edited by Jane Lydon

Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014

Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014

This fascinating study takes a radical and timely new look at the history of photography of Aboriginal people in Australia, stepping through the experience state by state to examine the practice from the perspective of the indigenous sitters, rather than the people behind the camera. The photographic image has enormous cultural and religious significance to the descendants of these subjects: “Rather than telling us what ‘the white photographer saw’, Aboriginal photographies focuses upon the interactions between photographer and Indigenous people and the living meanings the photos have today.”

 

Fantastic Voyage with King Kong & Queen : new listening in Arts.

Some new CD arrivals feature on the Listening Posts in Arts. They include recent releases in film soundtracks, pop, rock, classical guitar, and musical theatre. The online catalogue indicates which Listening Post the CD is available on.

There are eight jukebox listening posts in the Arts Reading Room, where you can listen to CDs from the audiovisual collection.

Fantastic Voyage : original motion picture soundtrack. Music composed by Leonard Rosenman.

La La Land Records, [2013]

La La Land Records, [2013]

 

Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the bottom of the sea : original motion picture soundtrack.  Music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter.

La La Land Records, 2011

La La Land Records, 2011

 

King Kong : music from the motion picture.  Music composed and conducted by John Barry.

Warner Bros Records, 2012

Warner Bros Records, 2012

 

Stagecoach : original motion picture score.  Music composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

La-La Land Records, [2012]
La-La Land Records, [2012]

 

Great new film soundtracks include rereleases of music from two classic 1960s science fiction epics, Fantastic Voyage that featured Raquel Welch and Stephen Boyd on a micro-submarine journey through the human body, includes a strange “Sound Effects Overture”, and Voyage to the Bottom of  the Sea that featured Barbara Eden and Frankie Avalon as crew members on board a nuclear submarine in the Arctic Ocean, includes Frankie Avalon singing the lush “Main Title” song.  There is also music from Stagecoach, a 1966 remake of the 1939 John Ford western, and King Kong, a 1976 remake of the 1933 monster thriller.  Notable movie composers featured include John Barry (of James Bond fame), Jerry Goldsmith and Leonard Rosenman.

Other new titles include Queen II, a 2011 remaster of the 1974 release that includes the legendary groups first hit single, “Seven Seas of Rhye”.   Mosaic presents a series of Australian guitar concertos performed by Karin SchauppThe last five years is the 2013 cast recording of the off-Broadway musical and Mojo presents classics of the British 1970s hard rock underground in Heavy Nuggets.

Queen II by Queen.

Universal Music Australia, 2011

Universal Music Australia, 2011

 

The last five years : 2013 off-Broadway cast recording.  Music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown.

Ghostlight Records, [2013]

Ghostlight Records, [2013]

Mosaic : Australian guitar concertos by Karin Schaupp.

ABC Classics/ Universal Music, 2014

ABC Classics/ Universal Music, 2014

 

Mojo presents Heavy Nuggets III: 15 gems from the hard rock underground.

Mojo Magazine, [2014]

Mojo Magazine, [2014]

 

Group of people using listening post in Arts room © Andrew Lloyd

Group of people using listening post in Arts room © Andrew Lloyd

Also check out the Naxos Music Library, one of our online databases for the following recent release of Italian soprano arias including selections from Turandot, Madama Butterfly and La Boheme.  It is available for anyone to use here in the Library via the website.  If you’re one of our Victorian registered users you can log in from home and explore at your leisure!

Italian Soprano Arias.

Naxos, 2014

Naxos, 2014

75 years ago; art goes to war again

I was taken by surprise the other day when, listening to the radio in the morning, the announcer rather casually mentioned that on that particular day 75 years ago ( 3rd September, 1939), war was declared between Great Britain and Germany. A momentous anniversary, and once again we look at just some of the ways in which the arts have both documented and reflected on such cataclysmic times.

Ivor Hele : the heroic figure by Lola Wilkins

Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial, 1997

 

South Australian Ivor Hele was one of the finest of all war artists stationed with the Australian military throughout the Second World War, working mainly in North Africa and New Guinea. He is also one our most most prolific war artists, with over 600 works in the collection of the Australian War Memorial, celebrated here in this fascinating catalogue which covers his World War II work as well as the time he spent documenting Australian troops during the Korean War. Great art, remarkable achievement.

 Projecting Britain at war : the national character in British World War II films by Jeremy Havardi (ebook)

McFarland, 2014

McFarland, 2014

 

Anyone with an interest in British cinema will instantly recognise the central position the Second World War had in what many see as the golden era of English film, from the 1940s through to the 50s/60s. This detailed study charts the changing nature of these films, from the simplistic, morale building patriotism of films made during the conflict to more thoughtful later representations of the war and the people who fought it, shaded by the wisdom of hindsight and changing social and political attitudes.

 Art and the Second World War by Monica Bohm-Duchen

Lund Humphries, 2013

Lund Humphries, 2013

This absorbing and powerfully illustrated volume takes a particularly interesting approach to art made during the Second World War, focussing not just on official war art but on the full range of artistic practice happening around the world during the years of conflict. The author argues strongly that art made during this period, “official” or otherwise, needs to be given its due rather than dismissed as either propaganda or in some way unworthy because of its subject matter. The extraordinary images she has collected here argue her case extremely well.

Give Me A Smile (Songs and Music of World War II): Carl Davis (electronic resource)

Naxos/Carl Davis Collection

Naxos/Carl Davis Collection

You can listen at home to this lovely selection of popular music from the period, designed to lift spirits in the darkest of days; courtesy of the Naxos Music Library

 

 And I just couldn’t resist the caption to this photo……

Aircrew personnel of an Australian Baltimore squadron now operating in Italy have formed their own art group

Aircrew personnel of an Australian Baltimore squadron now operating in Italy have formed their own art group

 

It’s a book Jim, but not as we know it; new ebooks in Arts

Our collection of ebooks continues to grow, and these are just a few of my current personal favourites; I can’t wait to get home to read them! You can too if you are one of our registered Victorian members.

Australian horror films, 1973-2010 [electronic resource]: Peter Shelley

McFarland & Company, 2012

McFarland & Company, 2012

This pioneering illustrated survey provides in-depth coverage of 76 horror films produced in Australia, where serial killers, carnivorous animals, mutants, zombies, vampires and evil spirits all receive the “antipodean” cinematic treatment unique to the Land Down Under.” So what are you waiting for? Pleased to note that one of my all-time favourite Australian films from any genre, Razorback, is given its due; surely one of the most disturbing cinematic visions of the Australian landscape ever!

The 100 greatest cover versions: the ultimate playlist [electronic resource] by Robert Webb

McNidder & Grace, 2012

McNidder & Grace, 2012

 ”Which Blondie Top Five was originally a flop for a West Coast power pop band? Who wrote Alice Cooper”s 1973 hit ”Hello Hurray”, and which folk singer first recorded it? Who launched their career with a tear and a cover of a little known Prince song? Where was Joe Cocker sitting when he came up with the idea of covering ”With a Little Help from my Friends?” If you can answer all or most of these questions then you probably don’t need this book; the rest of us can read on.

Kathryn Bigelow : interviews: [electronic resource] edited by Peter Keough

 

University Press of Mississippi, 2013

University Press of Mississippi, 2013

“In conversations ranging from the casual to the analytical, Bigelow explains how her evolving ambitions and aesthetics sprang from her earliest aspirations to be a painter and conceptual artist in New York in the 1970s, and then expanded to embrace Hollywood filmmaking when she was exposed to renowned directors such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah, and George Roy Hill.” That’s quite a lineage of directorial tough guys, and Bigelow’s filmography of titles such as Point Break, The Hurt Locker and K19: the Widow Maker all attest to a filmmaker ferociously drawn to the harder edge of the Hollywood genre film. And if you haven’t seen her wild and beautiful vampire movie, The Near Dark, well really…..

Star trek and American television [electronic resource] by Roberta Pearson and Máire Messenger Davies

University of California Press, 2014

University of California Press, 2014

“It’s a television show”, William Shatner points out to the authors here, and that’s precisely the approach they take with this fascinating exploration of the 1960s TV show that has taken on almost mythic status, spawning film, television and print franchises that continue to this day. Placing the series in the context of broader television history, this ground up examination of what went into making the show attempts to get beyond the mythology to figure out just why and how it became the phenomenon it is.

And what could be better than to sit back at home with an ebook and listen to an erecord, or whatever we call these things…..

Music for Book Lovers: Gentle Classics for Reading

Naxos

Naxos

 

If you’re new to this online business, we have a handy guide to get you started:  Instructions for using ebooks

New DVDs: Reef, Seashore, Shrek & Vali.

New DVDs arriving into the collection include the following releases in rock, popular and classical music, opera, dance, musical theatre, televison variety and visual arts.

Gene Kelly : anatomy of a dancer.

Warner Home Video, 2002

Warner Home Video, 2002

 

Shrek the musical : original Broadway Cast : music by Jeanine Tesori ; book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Radical Media, [2013]

DreamWorks Animation, Radical Media, 2013

 

Peter Grimes : on Aldeburgh beach by Benjamin Britten.

Arthaus Musik GmbH, [2013]

Arthaus Musik GmbH, [2013]

 

The reef by Richard Tognetti, Jon Frank, Mick Sowry and Iain Grandage.

ABC, 2013

ABC, 2013

In musical theatre there is the highly acclaimed Shrek the musical, based on the smash-hit movie and featuring the original Broadway cast.  Marina Prior Live features the music theatre star performing recently at Glasshouse, Port MacQuarie.  Her Australian concert tour arrives at the Arts Centre this weekend.

Australian classical and orchestral themes are explored in The Reef co-written by conductor Richard Tognetti and featuring the great Australian Chamber Orchestra; Seashore Classics combine Australian seascapes with beautiful classical pieces performed by notable Australian soloists, orchestras and conductors.

In opera there is a performance of Benjamin Brittens’ opera Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk, and a revival of Lauro Rossi’s Cleopatra filmed at the 2008 Macerata Sferisterio Festival, Italy.  Hollywood film legends Gene Kelly and Judy Garland feature in two releases and local artist and dancer, Vali Myers, is the subject of two film by Ruth Cullen.

Marina Prior live.

Ambition Music Group ; Distributed by Fanfare Records, 2013

Ambition Music Group ; Distributed by Fanfare Records, 2013

 

Seashore classics.

ABC, 2013

ABC, 2013

 

The Judy Garland Show collection.

Infinity Entertainment, [2009]

Infinity Entertainment, [2009]

 

Vali Myers : the tightrope dancer & painted lady : 2 films by Ruth Cullen.

Ruth Cullen, 2005

Ruth Cullen, 2005

These & further DVD titles, as well as other audiovisual material can be requested through the Library’s online catalogue, for playing on audiovisual equipment in Arts during opening hours.

Cleopatra by Lauro Rossi.

Sferisterio Opera Festival, 2008

Sferisterio Opera Festival, 2008

Cleopatra can be viewed online via the Naxos Video Library, which you can enjoy from home if you’re a registered Victorian member of the State Library.

 

Victor Hugo, Rigoletto and a charming battleship

Illustrated Australian News, 1885

Illustrated Australian News, 1885

 

With the State Library’s major exhibition, Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage, currently showing, I thought it might be timely to delve into just a few of the other musical works inspired by the writings of the great man. You can access them all from home if you’re one of our Victorian members.

Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo

Unitel/Naxos, 1982

Unitel/Naxos, 1982

That’s right, one of the most famous of all operas (Italian or otherwise) is based on a play written by Hugo in 1832. Supposedly modelled on the antics of French King Francis I, it instantly got its young author into hot water with the authorities who saw it as a veiled attack on the incumbent King Louis-Philippe, and promptly banned it after a single performance. Hugo’s defence of the work  transformed its author into a hero fighting for freedom of speech, but it remained banned for many years in France, and even Verdi’s reworking of it into an opera  fell foul of the Austrian censors in Northern Italy who failed, however, to stop its triumphant premiere in Venice in 1851.

Claire de Lune by Yvonne Kenny

ABC/Naxos

ABC/Naxos

Hugo’s poetry has inspired composers of many different hues, and two of the loveliest settings of his verse can be found on this recital by the seriously fabulous Yvonne Kenny, accompanied by the also fabulous Martin Martineau. Gounod’s lovely song based on the poem Serenade has all of that composer’s melodic charm, while Reynaldo Hahn’s light-as-a-feather setting of Si mes vers avaient des ailes (If my verse had wings) is perhaps the most famous of all Hugo melodies.

Les Miserables (film, 1934): score by Arthur Honegger

Naxos

Naxos

Raymond Bernard’s massive four hours plus film of Hugo’s classic was made in 1934, and is still considered by many to be the definitive cinematic version of the story. You know that you’re in for something pretty special when the score is by none other than Arthur Honegger, one of the giants of French 20th century music!

Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris has attracted its fair share of cinematic attention as well, generally retitled as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and this fabulous score by the great Alfred Newman accompanies the 1939 Hollywood film starring Charles Laughton.

Naxos

Naxos

I wonder how Hugo would have felt having a warship named after him?

French warship "Victor Hugo"

French warship “Victor Hugo”

 

And don’t forget to check out our Research Guide on all things Victor Hugo and 19th century France

 

War and the arts: strange bedfellows

 And the band played on: by Robert Holden (ebook)

Hardie Grant Books, 2014

Hardie Grant Books, 2014

Robert Holden is undoubtedly one of our finest social and cultural historians, and this recent book is a timely examination of how Australians thrown onto the front lines in the First World War used music, poetry and storytelling to stay sane and keep their spirits up. “Ultimately, although the linguistic and emotional offerings that soldiers found in song, poetry and reading could never annihilate the horror of war, they could at least help to alleviate it and to reaffirm civilised values. They could also take a homesick soldier back to happier times and to memories of a distant country.” A lovely book full of extraordinary stories, and a testament to the transcendent power of the arts.

You can listen to a selection of these nostalgic songs here in the Library on these lovely discs put out by the ABC (And the band played on : music from the First World War: ABC Classics) or take yourself back in time via the online Naxos Music Library with this terrific compilation (Songs of the Great War – Keep the Home Fires Burning), which is also available at home to our registered Victorian members.

Retrospective/Naxos

Retrospective/Naxos

 

Modern art, Britain and the Great War : witnessing, testimony and remembrance: by Sue Malvern

Yale University Press, 2004

Yale University Press, 2004

I suppose it must seem somewhat counter-intuitive to many that in the age of the photograph the less “mechanical” visual arts such as painting and drawing continue to be seen as intrinsic to the documentation of war and conflict. The official war-artist programme here in Australia has been responsible for a staggering amount of remarkable art relating to the operations of Australia’s military forces, and it follows a long established British tradition which continues to this day. This fascinating book explores the work of England’s burgeoning modernist art movement at a time of social crisis, and demonstrates how the war work of many of these cutting-edge artists was not only peculiarly apt for such confronting subject matter, but also laid down the artistic foundations for so much that was to follow in the ensuing decades.

The Fringes of the Fleet: Edward Elgar, et.al.

Somm/Naxos, 2010

Somm/Naxos, 2010

Edward Elgar looked on with dismay as the horrors of the war rolled on just over the English Channel, and he composed a number of pieces specifically relating to it, some of them overtly patriotic and others of a more reflective nature. The little known but marvellous theatrical song cycle, Fringes of the Fleet,  is based on poems by Rudyard Kipling celebrating the traditions of the British navy, and was clearly aimed at bolstering morale in the grim days of 1917. It was only a short time later however that the composer wrote his Cello Concerto, a work so full of reflection and sadness that it’s hard not to see it as his truest and most profound statement on the tragedy of war and the passing of the era he had come to epitomise.

Gallipoli: screenplay by David Williamson, directed by Peter Weir

Twentieth Century Fox, 2005

Twentieth Century Fox, 2005

Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli remains one of the most powerful cinematic evocations of one of the nation’s most traumatising and defining moments. He was drawn to making the film after visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula  following the successful premiere of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and together with playwright David Williamson created the story of two young, idealistic Australians who embark on a journey which leads inexorably to the grim reality behind so much idealism and jingoism.

Some Australian lads a long way from home

Some of the boys, Mena: 1915

Some of the boys, Mena: 1915

Musicals in Town

Wicked  : original Broadway cast recording : a new musical: music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

Decca Broadway, 2003

Decca Broadway, 2003

 

The King and I : original cast album: music by Richard Rodgers ; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd

Decca Broadway/Universal Music, 2000, 1951

Decca Broadway/Universal Music, 2000, 1951

 

Les Miserables : original London Cast: music by Claude-Michel Schönberg ; lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (French lyrics),  Herbert Kretzmer (English adaptation).  Based on the novel by Victor Hugo

Universal Music Australia, 1998

Universal Music Australia,
1998

Major musicals currently playing or recently presented in Melbourne include several revivals of some great long-running shows such as Wicked, Les Miserables and The Rocky Horror Show, as well as classics from Broadway’s golden era such as The King and I, Guys and Dolls and Show Boat.

Guys and Dolls : original 1950 Broadway cast: music and lyrics by Frank Loesser

Naxos Musicals, 2004
Naxos Musicals, 2004

 The Rocky Horror Show : original 1981 Australian cast: music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien

Festival, 1981

Festival, 1981

Most of these and more are available on Listening Posts in the Arts Reading Room.  The online catalogue indicates which Listening Post the CD is available on.  There are eight jukebox listening posts in the Arts Reading Room, where you can listen to CDs from the audiovisual collection.

Group of people using listening post in Arts room © Andrew Lloyd

Group of people using listening post in Arts room © Andrew Lloyd

Showboat : 1932 Studio Album & 1946 Broadway Revival

Naxos, [1932,1946].

Naxos, [1932,1946].

 

Show Boat is available for listening on Naxos music library, one of the many databases available for anyone to use here in the Library via the Library’s website, or from home if you’re one of our Victorian registered users.

Into the woods : original Broadway cast: music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Brandman Productions/Image Entertainment

Brandman Productions/Image Entertainment, 1999, c1990

Sondheim’s Into the Woods was recently performed by Victorian Opera in a lively and spectacular production at the Arts Centre.  The long-awaited movie version featuring Meryl Streep as The Witch, will hit the big screen for Christmas.

The original Broadway cast featuring Bernadette Peters is also available on DVD for viewing in the Library.  This as well as other audiovisual material can be requested through the Library’s online catalogue, for playing on audiovisual equipment in Arts during opening hours.

Once : original Broadway cast recording : a new musical: music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

Masterworks Broadway, Sony, 2012
Masterworks Broadway, Sony, 2012

The popular new musical Once, based on the 2007 Irish musical film, will have its Australian premiere at the Princess Theatre in Spring.  The CD is also available on listening posts in Arts.

Coming Soon for Summer…the much anticipated Strictly Ballroom plus revivals of Grease, The Lion King and La Cage aux Folles.

Chance encounters with Australian art

A chance encounter at a recent art auction viewing re-acquainted me with the lovely work of Dora Wilson, and I was delighted to find her work well represented in our own collections, as well as some personal papers and a myriad of exhibition catalogues.

Dora Wislon: Corner of Spring and Bourke Streets, Melbourne

Dora Wilson: Corner of Spring and Bourke Streets, Melbourne, c.1930-39

Born in England in 1883, she lived most of her life in Melbourne and spent a great deal of her time documenting the city and its environs in a series of beautiful paintings and sketches, culminating in her show Milestones of Melbourne at the Fine Art Society’s Gallery in 1935.

 

Fine Arts Society building, 100 Exhibition Street

Fine Arts Society building, 100 Exhibition Street

 

Known for her bright, vibrant style of painting she was an unashamed realist whose best work strikes me as presenting Melbourne as a sun filled, colourful and bustling 19th century metropolis moving comfortably into the modern era.

After the shower, Spring Street, 1937

After the shower, Spring Street, 1937

 

Apart from the sheer pleasure works like these can give, they also bear witness to the changing face of the city; is that our Dome peeking out amongst the buildings on the left in this charming picture of St. Francis’ Church?

St. Francis' Church, Melbourne, c.1935

St. Francis’ Church, Melbourne, c.1935

During her studies at the National Gallery School in the early years of the 20th century, Dora became interested in etching and studied with John Mather, also represented in our collections. She was one of the first women to apply herself to this medium in Australia, and her prints demonstrate the same freshness that radiates from her paintings.

Ships at anchor, 1904

Ships at anchor, 1904

 

Unidentified light house on a cliff,c. 1900-10

Unidentified light house on a cliff,c. 1900-10

Lovely things. It’s amazing what a chance encounter can lead to, don’t you think?

To finish, a rather appropriate painting by John Mather

John Mather: Sir Redmond Barry's residence off Bourke Street, 1915

John Mather: Sir Redmond Barry’s residence off Bourke Street, 1915

 

The cat

I knew that my post on dogs in art would trigger a feline response…..

Spend any time on the internet and you could be forgiven for thinking everyone likes cats and they always have. Leonardo de Vinci declared “the smallest feline is a masterpiece”. Jean Cocteau described cats as the visible soul of one’s home.

"Libraries are so broadening", by Deidre Hunt. Cover image Dine Impessions of the Cat
“Libraries are so broadening”, by Deidre Hunt. Cover image – Dine Impessions of the Cat. Wodonga, Vic: 1990

Well, nearly everyone. This post is from the celebrated 18th century blogger and naturalist, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.

THE cat is an unfaithful domestic, and kept only from the necessity we find of opposing him to other domestics still more incommodious and which cannot be hunted; for we value not those people, who, being fond of all brutes, foolishly keep cats for their amusement. Though these animals, when young, are frolicsome and beautiful, they possess, at the same time, an innate malice, and perverse disposition, which increase as they grow up, and which education learns them to conceal, but not subdue. From determined robbers, the best education can only convert them into flattering thieves; for they have the same address, subtlety and desire for plunder.

Cats in ukiyo-e. Tokyo: 2012
Cats in ukiyo-e. Tokyo: 2012

They easily assume the habits of society, but never acquire its manners; for they have only the appearance of attachment or friendship. This disengenuity of character is betrayed by the obliquity of their movements, and the duplicity of their eyes. They never look their best benefactor in the face; but, either from distrust or falseness, they approach him by windings, in order to procure caresses, in which they have no other pleasure than what arises from flattering those who bestow them.

The form and temperament of the cat’s body perfectly accord with his temper and dispositions. He is jolly, nimble, dexterous, cleanly, and voluptuous. He loves ease, and chooses the softest and warmest situations for repose.

Medieval cats. London: 2011
Medieval cats. London: 2011

Young cats are gay, vivacious, and frolicsome, and, if nothing was to be apprehended from their claws, would afford excellent amusement for children. But their toying, although always light and agreeable, is never altogether innocent, and is soon converted into habitual malice. As their talents can only be exerted with advantage against small animals, they lie in wait, with great patience and perseverance, to seize birds, mice and rats, and without instruction, become more expert hunters than the best trained dogs.

Cats on quilts. New York: 2000

Cats on quilts. New York: 2000

They have a natural antipathy to water, cold and bad smells. They are fond of basking in the sun and of lying in warm places. They are also fond of perfumes, and willingly allow themselves to be taken and caressed by persons who carry aromatic substances. They are so delighted with valerian root that it seems to throw them into a transport of pleasure.

Cats in the Louvre. Paris: 2007
Cats in the Louvre. Paris: 2007

Cats eat slowly, and with difficulty: their teeth are so short and ill placed, that they can tear, but not grind their food. Hence they always prefer the most tender victuals, as fishes, which they devour either raw or boiled. They drink frequently; their sleep is light; and they often assume the appearance of sleeping, when they are only meditating mischief.

Curious cats in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourn: 2012
Curious cats in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: 2012

Cats walk softly, without making any noise. As their hair in always clean and dry, it is easily electrified, and the sparks become visible when it is rubbed across with the hand in the dark. Their eyes also sparkle in the dark like diamonds, and seem to throw out, in the night, the light they imbibe during the day.

The Cat in art. New York: 2007
The Cat in art. New York: 2007

Though cats live in our houses, they are not entirely domestic. Even the tamest cats are not under the smallest subjection, but may rather be said to enjoy perfect liberty; for they act to please themselves only; and it is impossible to retain them a moment after they choose to go off. Besides, most cats are half wild. As the cat may be considered only half domestic; he forms the shade between domestic and wild animals.

Cats, wild and domestic, from Buffon's Natural History, V.4, London:1812
Cats, wild and domestic, from “Buffon’s Natural History”, V.4, London:1812

Translated, with notes and observations by William Smellie, member of the Antiquarian and Royal Societies of Edinburgh. Adapted and edited for the State Library of Victoria by Dominique Dunstan, Arts Collection  Librarian, member of the National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne Zoological Gardens