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Diary of a Victorian Cat illustrated by Susan Herbert

This is a book I have long admired for the delightfully detailed full colour illustrations of anthropomorphic cats. So much so that I have finally bought my own copy and am now endeavoring to add the further eight works to my collection.

Much-loved for her innovative depictions of cats, Susan Herbert's witty subject matter has been an enormous publishing success and has gained her a reputation as the world's most instantly recognizable cat artist.

Born in 1945, Susan Herbert did not undergo any formal artistic training before embarking on a career as an artist. Her first job was working at the box office for the Royal Shakespeare Company and during this time, described by Susan Herbert as filled with 'hideous part-time jobs', she used her spare moments to draw and paint as often as she could.

Susan Herbert's only period of artistic guidance came in 1973 when she gained a place at Oxford and studied for a term at the Ruskin School. Although now famous for her witty anthropomorphic cats, her early work contained rodents as the subject matter. The creatures were often illustrated on storyboards depicting scenes from operas and Shakespeare's plays.

In 1990, following fifteen years of hard work and limited success, Thames and Hudson produced The Cats Gallery of Art which was a publishing phenomenon. She is now a leading and prolific cat artist, with nine books in print:

1990 Cats Gallery of Art 
1991 The Diary of a Victorian Cat 
1992 Impressionist Cats 
1994 The Cats History of Western Art 
1995 Medieval Cats 
1996 Shakespeare Cats 
1997 Opera Cats 
1999 Pre-Raphaelite Cats 
2006 Movie Cats

Susan Herbert has been working on her latest release Movie Catsintermittently for the last four years. At present she is working on an entire storyboard of the film Casablanca with 49 illustrations in total.

The following are excerpts from Diary of a Victorian Cat:

MAY Wednesday 15th

Letitia is such a help to me! She seems to be quite happy carrying out tedious little errands on my behalf, such as buying a length of pink ribbon at Mrs Wishall's millinery shop. While Letitia was there earlier today concentrating on choosing the correct colour, I'm afraid that our little terror Arthur frightened his dear sister by pulling her hair. What was even worse, he contrived to make a mess of one spool of ribbon while no one was keeping an eye on him. Mrs Wishall might seek to keep her wares out of Master Arthur's reach another time.

MAY Saturday 25th

My visits to the greenhouse are not very serious. They are prompted by my wish to make the gardener aware that I do occasionally inspect the results of his work, though the churlish man has proven on the whole to be fairly reliable.
Today I found most of the plants looking a bit starved; the fuchsia and geraniums looked to me unusually leggy and a trifle neglected. I had to tie up one pot of lilies which were in grave danger of overbalancing.
Arthur is quite endearing in the greenhouse. He pretends to be repotting some nameless plant, and all he does is to cover himself with loose dirt until he looks like a Moor.

JUNE Thursday 6th

We have had to hire a new upstairs maid because the last one, ungrateful Prentice, departed suddenly and with no explanation at all two weeks ago. Letitia interviewed some ten girls before she chose Carrie, who had previously been employed in the home of Lady Murdstone. Carrie appears to be neat and willing and respectful, but her expression does seem to me sullen. Ah me, how deplorable I find domestic problems!

JUNE Friday 21st

Today we celebrate fifty glorious years of our dear Queen's reign, and we do so with pride and fervour. Who could not but admire the fortitude and grace with which our beloved monarch has accepted her exalted role in life and all the burdens that go with it! When I think of Her Majesty's overwhelming responsibilities, I am ashamed that I ever find it in myself to complain of the petty problems in my daily round! God save the Queen!

MAY Monday 25th

It has been my fondest hope for years to hang my father's portrait in the library, but I did not achieve that aim until yesterday morning when Mother finally relinquished it to me. Posed by his favourite falls in his beloved Highlands and carrying his favourite walking-stick, my dear dear father is finally restored to me as I remember him best - upright, thoughtful and dignified.

The biographical section was taken from Chris Beetles Gallery website. Chris Beetles Gallery deal exclusively with Susan Herbert's original artwork.

Contributed by Sonia Bryant

(Published 8th Dec 2014)

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