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Famous artists and their pets

Paul Klee learned to paint from his cats, the relationship of Picasso and his badger-dog nearly led to a tragedy, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s love story with a wombat was no less romantic than the affair of Raphael and La Fornarina.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali’s interest in exotic animals (like everything he showed to the public) was exaggerated. Let’s start with the fact that his beloved ocelot Babou was not quite his pet. Dali bought it from a beggar in New York and dropped it off at the room of his secretary John Peter Moore, nicknamed Captain. The Captain was surely surprised to find albeit small, but still leopard in his room. Still Moore didn’t show it, as he had been Dali’s trustee for 12 years and got used to such twists of fate.

The gift fit in well: the Captain quickly became friends with Babou, found a fancy for ocelots and acquired two more animals later on. It was this man, not Dali, who kept ocelots — he fed and treated them, he paid bills for the damaged items. It happened that Babou scent-marked the old engravings worth four thousand dollars and a piano on a cruise ship. Dali only borrowed Babou as a provocative accessory. However, the artist spent a lot of time in the company of ocelots, so it can be said with a bit of a stretch that Babou was Dali’s pet.

As for the famous photo with an anteater, it was entirely posed.
Of course, Dali did not keep such an exotic animal at home, he rented the anteater in the Paris zoo to shock the audience. Apparently, he also borrowed anteaters in other institutions. For example, the anteater, with whom he would come to the Dick Cavett’s show, was obviously much smaller than the one captured in this iconic photo.

There are several versions to explain Dali’s love for anteaters. Probably, it was a kind of homage to Andre Breton, the author of the poem "After the Giant Anteater", who was nicknamed Anteater by his friends. However, Dali used to say that he had a bat as his pet in childhood. One day, when Salvador found the bat dead, he saw ants crawling over its body. Since then, he disliked ants, and had a fancy for anteaters respectively.

Paul Klee

Paul Klee differs from many artists who admired cats by the fact that not only he drew them, but he willingly collaborated with them. The cats who accompanied him throughout his life were not only pleasant company for the artist, but also partners, inspiration, and sometimes mentors. One of Klee’s favorite techniques was scratching the paint layer with something sharp. And who better than the cats could teach him this difficult technique?

American collector Edward Warburg recalled how scared he was when at Klee’s studio he saw the cat Bimbo getting closer to a watercolor that was still wet. Warburg wanted to chase the cat away so that the animal wouldn’t smear the paint, but Klee stopped him with the words "Let him do what he wants. In years to come, some of connoisseurs will wonder how I managed to achieve such an effect!".
Paul Klee. A cat and a bird
A cat and a bird
1928, 38×53 cm
Klee believed that cats have a special vision and a kind of mystical knowledge. Nina, the wife of Wassily Kandinsky, with whom Klee was friends, wrote in her memoirs: "Klee adored cats. In Dessau, his cat always stared at me from the studio window opposite my apartment. Paul said, 'you can not keep secrets from me. The cat will know everything and will surely tell me."

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s home in Mexico city could give an average zoo a head start. They had spider monkeys, cats, parrots, an eagle, a deer, a pack of Mexican hairless dogs Xoloitzcuintle. All this motley audience showed a temper worthy of the temperament of the hosts. Cats were jealous of monkeys (especially Diego and Frida’s favorite, Mr. Fulang-Chang). One of the parrots was constantly stealing butter from the table, the other one was always telling the guests about his hungover. The dogs chased the deer among the agaves and pomegranates. And only the eagle maintained his proper equanimity. Life in the blue house was like a Mexican soap opera where animals played an important role.

Pablo Picasso

There are perhaps no less dog lovers among the famous artists than fans of cats. Among them one can notice a separate caste of dachshund owners. For some reasons artists enjoy a special favor for this breed. Pierre Bonnard and David Hockney, Adolf Eberle and Andy Warhol adored their dachshund pets. And the most famous couple was surely Picasso and his dachshund Lump (from the German word Lump which means a scoundrel).

It was Picasso’s friend, a military photographer David Duncan, who gave the puppy to the artist as a gift. In addition to taxes, Duncan had another pet besides a dachshund. It was the Afghan hound which never got along with Lump. One day Duncan came to Picasso with Lump, and the dog did not want to leave. Picasso, who was an outstanding tamer of women, became extremely flexible when the dachshund was around. Lump was allowed to do anything: to sleep in his master’s bed, to eat from his plate, to visit the studio (the other pets of the artist — a boxer Jan and a goat Esmeralda — did not have such privileges). For seven years Pablo and Lump have been inseparable.

One day Lump’s legs were paralyzed due to spinal problems, and Picasso just took him to a shelter to die. This love, like all Picasso’s relationships would have ended in tragedy if David Duncan had not found the dog, who miraculously was still alive. The paralysis was a temporary and easily treatable phenomenon, so Lump have lived with his former owner another ten happy years. "You must understand that Picasso is a Spaniard," Duncan said trying to justify his brilliant friend. "He treated animals a little differently than you or me." However, you have to understand for yourself who was a real lump in this story.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, had a passionate, impulsive, and quirky nature. When his wife had died of an overdose of laudanum (she had been ill for a long time), tormented by the guilt of being too busy with art and not paying her due attention, the artist buried the manuscripts of his poems with his wife Eight years after that, he excavated the grave and published the poems.
If anything fascinated him more than poetry and painting, it was exotic animals. Rossetti had a llama, an armadillo, a toucan, a pair of marmots, some peacocks, owls, parrots, a salamander, a kangaroo, a great many dogs, and two donkeys. It is said that the artist was negotiating the purchase of an elephant (he really wanted to have his own elephant as a pet), when his attention was completely captured by wombats.
Mrs. Morris with a wombat (1869), source: British Museum/Wikimedia
"A wombat brings joy, delight, and madness! " Rossetti used to say. He often invited friends to share these feelings at the London zoo. In the end, he got his own wombat, which he named Top — after the husband of his mistress. Alas, unable to survive in English climate, soon Top fell ill and died. Rossetti got the animal stuffed by a taxidermist and dedicated a short poem to his late friend. He later acquired another wombat, but that was not the case. The artist had been grieving for a long time. And even the toucan, whom the artist had taught to wear a cowboy hat and ride a llama, could not comfort him.
Written by Andrey Zimogliadov