How do you cope with the stress of the art world? Basel alone is enough to make the toughest gallerina pack up her LV trunks and move to a secluded cabin in the Hudson River Valley. If you’re in this industry for the long haul, a girl’s gotta have her coping mechanisms. Luckily, these days there are endless ways to blow off steam, from Bikram to Berghain. But one of the most underrated self-care strategies actually isn’t an activity but a living, breathing creature. That’s right, I’m talking about pet therapy. More specifically, I’m talking about famous artists and their pets.
Like the rest of us, artists can’t live without their furry friends. It might seem hard to take care of a pet while living the bohemian artist lifestyle—the oil fumes alone are enough to make any cat go schizophrenic. But that hasn’t stopped countless artists through the ages from adopting animals. Some of them, like Hemingway’s polydactyl cats or Karl’s Choupette, have gone on to become legends and even social media icons.
While some famous artists are known animal lovers, others might surprise you. Keep reading to discover all the hot goss about these famous artists and their pets.
1) Leonardo da Vinci and his musings on animals
The Renaissance master who painted the Mona Lisa is often quoted as an early animal rights activist. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but Leonardo wasn’t a vegan. But he did love animals so much that he might have refused to eat them. Unlike his contemporaries, he refused to believe that God created animals for humans to use as they wanted. He saw animals as equal, and in some ways even superior, to human beings.
But he didn’t just talk the talk. Leonardo had all kinds of animals scampering around his studio, and according to Giorgio Vasari’s biography, he would buy caged birds at Italian markets—just to set them free. How poetic.
2) Henri Matisse, his cats and his doves
One of the giants of modernism whose use of color outraged his contemporaries, Matisse was a softie animal lover at heart. In the 1940s, he lived in a villa in Vence, France, along with three cats: Minouche, Coussi and La Puce (“the flea”). The story goes that he fed them little pieces of brioche every morning.
Pop quiz: what other animal appears in many of Matisse’s cutouts? That’s right, the dove. The artist adored these elegant white birds, which he would buy from vendors by the Seine in Paris. His doves inspired Matisse’s close friend, an obscure Spanish artist named Picasso, to make Dove of Peace (1949). At the end of his life, Matisse gifted his beloved birds to Picasso.
3) Wassily Kandinsky and his cat, Vaske
You could spend an entire PhD career searching for a cat in Kandinsky’s paintings, but you won’t find one. Still, that shouldn’t disqualify the pioneering Russian abstract painter from the pet-loving artists’ club. Here’s photographic proof that Kandinsky adored his kitty, Vaske. And who wouldn’t? He looks like a fluffy baby who just woke up from a nap. So cute, I’m dead. Plus, note how good their names sound together: Wassily (pronounced with a “v”) and Vaske.
4) Salvador Dalí and his ocelots
Is anyone surprised that Dalí has the most flamboyant pet choice on the list? Instead of getting a cat like a normal person, the celebrated surrealist opted for not one but two ocelots, Babou and Bouba. For the uninitiated, that’s a dwarf leopard native to Latin America.
If you’re thinking that sounds kind of dangerous, you’re not alone: one time, a woman once started freaking out to Dalí at a restaurant, but he calmed her down by telling her that his ocelot was just a cat that he painted “in an op art design.” I guess Dalí looked crazy enough that she believed him.
BTW, ocelots aren’t even the most out-there animals Dalí was ever seen with. The story goes that there’s a photo out there of him walking an anteater on a leash. Can someone please dig that up?
5) Frida Kahlo and all her animals
Another exotic animal lover, Frida kept an entire zoo in her house at one time or another. Between her health struggles and her cheating scumbag husband, Diego Rivera, she needed a whole lot of pet therapy in her life. Dogs, birds, monkeys and even a fawn named Granizo kept her company through life’s ups and downs. Maybe her 1946 painting, The Wounded Deer, is a veiled ode to Granizo, as well as an expression of her own suffering.
6) Pablo Picasso and his dachshund, Lump
Just like he couldn’t stick to one art style, Picasso cycled through every kind of pet imaginable in his long (read: 91 years!) life. Before he inherited Matisse’s doves, he owned owls, dogs, a mouse and a goat. While living in Montmartre during his Blue Period, Picasso owned a Siamese cat, Minou. (Note to self: if you want a pet that cheers you up, get a dog).
Lump immortalized in Dog (1957).
In 1957, he met Lump the dachshund and it was love at first sight. Apparently Lump was the only creature, human or animal, allowed into the master’s studio. It was one of Picasso’s longest—and definitely his most faithful—relationships. The two stayed together for sixteen harmonious years and died within ten days of each other. Want to know more? Lump: The Dog Who Ate Picasso tells the full story of the legendary love affair.
Lump makes an appearance in Picasso’s Las Meninas (Velazquez) (1957).
7) Tsugaru Foujita and his cats
Foujita, Self-portrait in the studio (1926).
What does it take to become the official Master of Cats? Well, for starters, you could publish the most popular and desirable book on cats ever published. That’s what Japanese painter Foujita accomplished with his Book of Cats, a collection of 20 etched plate drawings.
After women, cats were Foujita’s second-favorite subject. Most of his self-portraits included at least one or two felines. Clearly, cat-loving was a huge part of the man’s identity. Throughout his life, Foujita surrounded himself with cats—and liked women who did the same. Here’s a quote from a 1935 interview:
“Ladies who would be alluring to men should surround themselves with cats… I never look at men, only at women—they have, each one, such marvelous possibilities of beauty. But unfortunately most of them have not developed these possibilities because they have not learned the lessons cats can teach…”
Foujita, Woman and Cat (1937).
Jot that one down, ladies. Maybe Foujita’s cat obsession can help you in your dating life.
8) Jackson Pollock and his dogs, Gyp and Ahab
Pollock, a legendary alcoholic, struggled with depression his entire life. Luckily, he had another coping mechanism besides alcohol, a healthier one: his two dogs. As a boy, Pollock had a dog named Gyp. When he and his wife, Lee Krasner, adopted a dog together, either his imagination failed him or his devotion to his childhood best friend shone through. Either way, they named the dog Gyp.
Sadly, even the cutest pups can’t cure depression. Pollock passed away at the early age of 44, killed in a drunk driving accident.
9) Georgia O’Keeffe and her Chows
Contrary to popular belief, the legendary recluse Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t live out her later years in the desert all by her lonesome. She had a steady flow of guests streaming through Ghost Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Also keeping her company on lonely desert nights: Chow puppies.
After her first dog, a poodle named Pancho, was killed in a car accident, a neighbor gave Georgia two Chow puppies, Bo and Chia. Yes, like the pudding. They clearly hit it off, because the painter kept coming back for more. Over her lifetime, she owned a total of six Chows. Can you blame her? Those dogs are so adorable I’d move to the desert alone to hang out with them all day.
10) René Magritte and his dog, Lou-Lou
Here’s another artist that doesn’t exactly jump out as an animal lover. Magritte is best known for his quirky, witty surrealist compositions, the most famous being The treachery of images (ceci n’est pas une pipe). But when he wasn’t dreaming up optical illusion compositions, he was a pretty regular guy—a family man, you could say. He had a wife, Georgette, and a dog named Lou-Lou, who liked to tag along with Magritte to art openings.
In 1983, Paul Simon immortalized Lou-Lou in his song “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War.” It’s not one of his most famous compositions, but Rolling Stone said it’s one of his best. Give it a listen and you’ll see why. The lyrics will make your heart melt.
11) Andy Warhol, his cats and his dachshunds
Illustrations from 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy (1954).
When you think Warhol, you probably imagine him like a pale, aloof Stoic in the Factory, surrounded by superstars. But superstars weren’t his only companions; the man loved animals.
In fact, anyone familiar with Warhol’s work knows his playful early cat drawings. In 1954, Warhol published a book of lithographs called 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy. (For only $275, it can be yours!) According to his nephew’s account in Uncle Andy’s Cats, the book began with Warhol’s own cat, Hester. Worried that Hester would get lonely when he was out schmoozing the ab-ex crowd, Warhol brought home another cat, Sam. Sam and Hester clearly hit it off—soon the cat family grew to 25, all named after Sam.
Later in life, Warhol’s boyfriend Jed Johnson convinced him to get a dog. In 1973, Archie the dachshund weaseled his little legs into Warhol’s life and his heart. The two became inseparable, and soon another dachshund, Amos, joined the fam.
12) Ai Weiwei and his 30 cats
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei clearly has a big heart—and a big property. The proof? The artist’s studio and home in Beijing doubles as a cat sanctuary, home to 30-plus cats. Knowing that all felines are welcome at Ai Weiwei’s, locals bring unwanted cats to join the clan. Word must’ve gotten out, because some come on their own accord. “This is their place,” Ai Weiwei told Puss Puss Magazine. “It’s all about the cats.”
13) Takashi Murakami and his dog, Pom
Takashi Murakami, Pom & Me (2012).
If you follow Murakami on IG, you’ve noticed that his handle and avatar contain tributes to his dog, Pom. Pom has been with Murakami literally since birth. The story begins as any good love story should: with a photo spotted in an advertisement. Murakami was looking for “a good place to go where nothing was happening” when a picture in a magazine of “a very dirty dog” in a dingy, anonymous hotel in Japan caught his eye.
When Murakami arrived, he discovered that the hotel had not one but two dogs, and the second one was pregnant. He extended his stay to wait for the puppies, one of whom became his beloved Pom.
14) Chloe Wise and her cat, Pluto Chicken Nugget Wise
Pom’s not the only art pet with a social media presence. Artist Chloe Wise’s cat, Pluto Chicken Nugget, frequently makes guest appearances on her feed. If that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity about the adventurous life of Pluto Chicken Nugget, she’s got you covered. Pluto has his own IG account with a killer bio: “I may not be a planet but I’m my mommy’s WORLD!”
15) Apolonia Sokol and her dog
Lurk a little deeper and you’ll find another adorable art pet: painter Apolonia Solok’s fluffy black dog. Its gender, name and breed remains a mystery, but if you’re a seasoned IG lurker up to the challenge, feel free to do some sleuthing on your own time and dm us with the deets.
Well, that’s it for famous artists and their pets. Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know!
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via The Conversation, Huxley-Parlour, Daily Art Magazine, Pinterest, Frida Kahlo, WikiArt, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Flickr, Guy Hepner, Whitney Museum of American Art, Artspace, @plutochickennugget, @apolonia_painter.