This is a perfect painting for any cat lover. This mischievous cat, alike all of Paton’s felines, has been painted in a style typical of the 19th century. However, it is the added level of detail in this scene that makes it a particularly noteworthy painting of the time.
The depiction of the cat’s anatomy is enormously successful, with the viewer fully believing that underneath the animal’s rolling fur coat lie a series of muscles and tendons that have just allowed the animal to jump into action and catch it’s unsuspecting prey. As the bird hangs limply in the cats mouth, the open cage door, broken eggs and scattered feathers hint at what has just come before.
This scene is full of life and should be considered as a celebration of nature in all of its forms. Alongside the two main animals, Paton has also included an inquisitive blue tit looking onto the scene and a tiny ladybird clinging to a leaf in the centre of the canvas. The foliage in the background has been given equal importance to the rest of the composition and echos the tale of life and death. On the left we see autumnal ivy leaves turning brown and ready to fall. In contrast, on the right-hand side a strawberry bush is coming into bloom showing the first signs of new fruit.
Frank Paton’s career saw witness to a cat-painting renaissance that occurred in the second half of the 19th century. Indeed, by the end of the 19th century around 100 artists in America and Europe chose to make the cat their primary subject, not only on canvas but also on advertisements, sculptures and greeting cards (as demonstrated by Paton).
Frank Paton was born on 23 November 1855 in Stepney, London. His parents were James Paton and Mary Ann Paton (née Ross) and he was the youngest of their seven children. Although Stepney, in the East End of London, was a stronghold for the Paton family, Frank grew up in and around Gravesend, Kent as his father was a maritime pilot.
Unlike his brothers, the majority of whom entered the Merchant Navy, Frank showed an early talent for drawing animals and was allowed to follow his artistic tendencies. His first known exhibition was at the tender age of sixteen, the piece being a portrait of a German peasant girl.
Although never a member of the Royal Academy, a total of twenty works by Paton were exhibited at their annual selling exhibition between the years 1872 and 1890. He was a successful artist during his lifetime and could even count Queen Victoria as an admirer of his work. His most famous compositions, ‘Fairest of Them All’ and ‘Puss in Boots’ (1880), have adorned many a wall in the form of plates and posters.
However, Frank Paton is perhaps most widely known for his series of etched Christmas cards published annually by Edward Ernest Leggatt from 1880 until Paton’s death in 1909. They were intended to be a cut above the average Christmas card and sold for half a guinea each. Their format became quite formulaic over the years. A central subject reflecting the title of the print was usually complemented by a series of often humorous sketches around its border. A number of the prints would be sent from the printers to be signed in pencil by Paton. Fittingly, Paton’s last ever Christmas card was called ‘The End of the Day’.