Adolphe Willette - Onbekend
May 18, 2015 5:35 AM   Subscribe

While visiting the wonderful Kattenkabinet in Amsterdam, myself and my friend were captivated by Onbekend by Adolphe Willette. Back home, and I cannot find anything online about this picture, in which a huge black cat looms over a panicked townscape. Does anyone know anything about this painting? What's going on in it?
posted by sarahdal to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe captivated the minds of Europe for years after its publication in 1843. I could only speculate about the painting in question (year 1850) but the timing certainly seems conspicuous.
posted by rada at 6:35 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Apparently Willette helped to decorate the Black Cat Cabaret (opened 1881) with paintings and signs - maybe this was one of those?

Search results in From Publicity to Intimacy: The Poster in Fin-de-siecle Paris
By Sarah Elizabeth Hamilton

Here's a nice cat he doodled in a letter.
posted by moonmilk at 6:42 AM on May 18, 2015

Oops, I missed that it was painted in 1850, so obviously he was into black cats long before The Black Cat.
posted by moonmilk at 6:46 AM on May 18, 2015

If it’s by Adolphe Léon Willette (1857-1926), then the painting has to post-date 1850. Another painting of Willette’s featuring black cats is discussed here: A Canvas by Adolphe Willette Acquired by the Musée de l’Isle-Adam.
posted by misteraitch at 7:33 AM on May 18, 2015

He was into black cats years before he was born! That's dedication.
posted by moonmilk at 7:41 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Searching for the title isn't going to help, since "onbekend" just means "unknown" (as in "title unknown"). I find it a bit odd that the page to which you linked has the giant black cat facing left, but the virtual tour has it facing right. A quick search on the reversed image suggests that it the cat faces right in the original (for example).

That is definitely one weird painting.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:16 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did a little more digging around today. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France appears to have a chronological collection of Willette's work (I would guess, photographs of it) in its print and photo collection, at the rue de Richelieu site. So if you care about this enough to go to Paris, get a library card, and work through it. A cheaper option would be to find an art history graduate student in Paris and ask him or her to do it; you could probably get someone for around $40/hour, but no results guaranteed.

That painting definitely has parallels in his other work, though.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:06 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, the chase gets more interesting! A contemporary reminiscence gives a list of his paintings. The only one that seems to fit is Le Rêve ("The Dream"), which is not terribly revealing. But there's no guarantee that the list in that 1900 publication is comprehensive.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:23 PM on May 19, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks guys - and yes, I remember the cat facing right in the original. How strange, although it is a strange little museum!
posted by sarahdal at 6:15 AM on May 20, 2015

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