Watch: A Very Weird Short Film About the History of Cats in Art at The Met

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

A moment from 'Metropolitan Cats, 1983—A History of Cats at The Met.' (

Has working from home brought you and your cat closer this year? Has binge-watching Tiger King given you a newfound reverence for all things feline? Have (the soon-to-be-over!) museum closures left you desperate for more art in your eyeballs?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, and need viewing material both soothing and strange, I've got just the thing. It's called Metropolitan Cats, 1983—A History of Cats at The Met and it's currently online, via the New York Metropolitan Museum's From The Vaults series.

Back in 1983, the staff of The Met got together to discuss the history of cats in art. Documentary filmmaker Robert Lehman (son of the banker Robert Lehman, who donated thousands of artworks to The Met) condensed it down into a 24-minute video that manages to be both informative and consistently bizarre.

The staff display an odd mix of reverence and fear towards cats, both real and depicted. Several of them talk of the cat as a rare creature that can symbolize domesticity and wildness simultaneously. Some speak of sacrificing their own comfort for that of their pet cats. And some sound like they're in a dominance-and-submission discussion group that's gone awry.

"I find it very easy to worship a cat," says one woman. Another earnestly states: "The one thing I've found with cats—which is why I've not been involved with them—is they do not bend to human will." At one point, someone else admits that "I've tried spanking a cat."


That weird tone also slips into some of the artwork analysis. One cat is deemed symbolic of a "courtesan, the geisha." Another, depicted walking with kittens, is compared to "the happy hooker with her wages of sin." And there's hyperbole everywhere; at one point someone says of a cat portrait, "It's a small print, but when it's blown up, it's like the large Andy Warhol portraits of Mao."

Needless to say, watching this, if you're not learning you're laughing. Art featured includes works by Renoir, Francisco Goya, Currier & Ives, Oide Tōkō, Théophile Steinlen and more. And remember everyone, as one staff member notes here: "All cats are beautiful—even ugly cats are beautiful."

You can watch Metropolitan Cats, 1983—A History of Cats at The Met in full, below.