Where the Venn diagram of cat lovers and art lovers overlaps, you’ll find Françoise Baronian. The driving force behind Le Musée du Chat, the exhibit currently on display at De Markten in the Dansaert neighborhood, it’s the Belgian gallery owner’s expansive collection that makes up most of Brussels’ quirkiest new museum. Other private collections and galleries have lent a number of feline-themed works to complete the look; cat portraits, sculptures, photographs, video installations, books, paraphernalia and more make sure that the race is represented in a variety of ways. From kitty busts dating back to ancient Egypt to photos of pensive-looking shorthair cats and a massive, literal cat-and-mouse game, about a hundred works show that the animal has long fascinated artists of all periods and disciplines.
It’s this insight that propelled a small group of specialists in the field who shared Baronian’s niche interest to help her put on the idiosyncratic Le Musée du Chat, or The Museum of the Cat. Even though its unusual subject matter fits right in with Brussels’ other unique museums such as the Underwear Museum and the International Puppet Museum, the capital won’t be the exhibition’s permanent home.
In fact, the heart of Europe is only the second stop in a traveling tour that will also visit Charleroi and Rotterdam. The exhibition aims to introduce cat lovers everywhere to the role their beloved pet has played in the history of the arts. As Xavier Canonne, a member of the organizing non-profit vzw Le Musée du Chat, remarks, a lot of literary and artistic legends have drawn inspiration from this “silent watchman.” Homer, Poe, Dumas, Ravel and Apollinaire have all been struck by the “beauty, elegance and virtues” of “this homely genius, a source of so much happiness and connection.” The setup will differ in every location, making the one in Brussels unique nonetheless.