Animal Acts | Act 3: The Baldwin Cat (Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus)

September 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Felis catus

The Baldwin Cat (Felis catus ) detail sketch

“The Baldwin Cat is the latest novelty. It walks on to the stage at Day’s Concert Hall, springs at the word of command up a perpendicular rope hanging from the roof, which is calculated to be 44ft long.  It then seats itself on a board attached to a parachute, which is fixed to the roof by a string tied in a running knot, and at the words “Let go” the cat pulls the string and the parachute expands and falls slowly to the floor.  A large audience witnessed the performance for the first time last night and were highly pleased with it, and a few words which a Mail man had with the trainer, Mr Martin, showed that the intelligence of the cat had not been developed without extraordinary perseverance and patience.  The training of the animal was commenced when it was a month old, and at first it was made to climb a rope six inches long.  That was increased in length an inch a day, and so on until the length of 50ft was reached.  The parachute descent was rehearsed in the same fashion, and twelve months were spent in bringing the cat as a performer to its present perfection.  To those who have hitherto looked upon the domestic cat as almost unteachable, the doings of this animal will come as a surprise

The domestic cat (Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus) is a small, usually furry, domesticated, and carnivorous mammal. It is often called the housecat when kept as an indoor pet, or simply the cat when there is no need to distinguish it from other felids and felines. Cats are often valued by humans for companionship and their ability to hunt vermin and household pests.

Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felids, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws, and teeth adapted to killing small prey. Cat senses fit a crepuscular and predatory ecological niche. Cats can hear sounds too faint or too high in frequency for human ears, such as those made by mice and other small game. They can see in near darkness. Like most other mammals, cats have poorer color vision and a better sense of smell than humans.

Despite being solitary hunters, cats are a social species, and cat communication includes the use of a variety of vocalizations (meowing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling and grunting) as well as cat pheromones and types of cat-specific body language.

Since cats were cult animals in ancient Egypt, they were commonly believed to have been domesticated there, but there may have been instances of domestication as early as the Neolithic.

A genetic study in 2007 revealed that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica) c. 8000 BCE, in the Middle East. According to Scientific American, cats are the most popular pet in the world, and are now found in almost every place where people live.

According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in Italy, Germany, Greece and some Spanish-speaking regions they are said to have seven lives, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions the number of lives is six. The myth is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats exhibit to escape life-threatening situations.
Also lending credence to this myth is the fact that falling cats often land on their feet, using an instinctive righting reflex to twist their bodies around.
Nonetheless, cats can still be injured or killed by a high fall.
Baldwin's Cat (composition sketch)

The Baldwin Cat (Felis catus) composition sketch

Animal Acts
These sketches represent the first stages of preliminary work for a series of paintings that I am creating to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the National Fairground Archive, based in The University Library, University of SheffieldThis commission will form part of the Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition which will open in September 2014 and run for four months.
This new body of work has been inspired by a number of lively discussions with Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the archive. They reflect a shared interest in the changing perception of Animal Acts that has occurred in human consciousness over the last few decades. This change in consciousness towards performing animals has had broad implications throughout society, and acts (in itself) as a powerful indicator of the ambiguities that surround the relationship between the human animal and other species. 

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