BOOKS: Cats & Dogs in the Louvre

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:

Cats in the Louvre
by Frederic Vitoux &
Elisabeth Foucart-Walter

Dogs in the Louvre
by Francois Nourissier &
Elisabeth Foucart-Walter

Flammarion (c/o Rizzoli New York, 300 Park
Avenue South, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10010),
Each 80 pages, hardcover, illustrated; $19.95.

Elisabeth Foucart-Walter, chief curator
of the painting department at the Louvre art
museum in Paris, has teamed with Académie
française member Frédéric Vitoux and Académie
Goncourt president François Nourissier to produce
Cats in the Louvre and Dogs in the Louvre. The
substance of these twin volumes emerges from
Foucart-Walter’s eye for the animals in the
corners, backgrounds, and occasionally the
foregrounds of some of the Louvre’s most famous

Rarely are the cats and dogs the actual
subjects of the paintings, drawings, and
statues that Foucart-Walter examines, but often
their activities comment on the subjects, and at
times the animals’ behavior clarifies now obscure
situations. We mostly no longer know many of the
stories that inspired the artists whose works
fill the Louvre, but how cats and dogs respond
to the subjects still tells much about who they
Foucart-Walter has selected for comment
40 works including cats and 40 including dogs.
These may be just the 80 works depicting the
individual animals about whom Foucart-Walter has
discovered the most; but she seems
well-acquainted with many. Foucart-Walter points
out that several animals appear time and again in
paintings by certain artists, or showing certain
families. Sometimes Fourcart-Walter recognizes
probable relationships among animals in different
paintings. At times she cites historical
mentions of the animals.
Because dog pedigrees have only been
formally recorded for about 200 years, there is
a widely held misconception that purebred lines
only go back that far. Dogs in the Louvre
illustrates otherwise. Perhaps because only the
rich could commission paintings and sculptures,
most of the dogs in Dogs in the Louvre works are
purebreds, of breeds still recognized today.
About half are hounds, bred for hunting, though
more often shown in other contexts. The rest are
mostly lap dogs, including one who puts up a
heroic but futile defense against the intrusion
of a murderer. There are no street dogs.
Feral cats do sneak into Cats in the
Louvre, including two shown stealing fish from
vendors, among many lap-kitties who exhibit
great patience with the children holding them.
Mostly, Cats in the Louvre affirms that pet cats
were often allowed indoors and highly valued well
before the advent of clay litter and prepared pet
food, but perhaps mainly by people who could
afford servants–and artists.

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