By Susan Herbert
Thames & Hudson, $11.95, 64 pages
When Michelangelo carved marble sculpture, he said he could look at the block of stone and see the finished piece. Artist Susan Herbert seems to have this gift too. She can look at a painting and see it transformed in her mind. Luckily for cat and art lovers, the feline is Herbert’s muse. Pre-Raphaelite Cats combines the artwork of Susan Herbert, one of today’s most distinctive contemporary cat artists, with the original work of master painters of the pre-Raphaelite era. When Herbert looks at the originals, she sees cats in the places of the human beings and she gets to work creating her own versions of the paintings, only this time with a lot of feline flare. Thirty of Herbert’s full-color, full-page paintings and ten sketches are beautifully featured in this whimsical book.
While fun and frisky in nature, the book is presented like any other serious collection of artwork. A sentence or two explains what is going on in the scene, just enough information to keep readers curious. You’ll definitely want to learn more about her method – does she pick a particular cat breed to feature? Does she use live models or paint her feline subjects from photographs and/or reference book?
The back of the book touts that under Herbert’s artistic touch, “Pre-Raphaelite painting takes on a certain feline charm.” This is a purr-fect summary of the transformation Herbert creates when she puts paintbrush to canvas. Readers will find postage stamp-sized reproductions of originals paintings at the back of the book and it is fun to compare exactly what Herbert changed when she added her feline focus to the art. Herbert’s work can also be seen in other books including Shakespeare Cats and Movie Cats.
Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin