THE CAT & THE CONVALESCENT by Harrison Weir, 1896
Original drawings or paintings of cats by Harrison Weir are extremely rare, and due to his recognition as the 'Father of the Cat Fancy', are often considered more significant than those of other subjects. In truth, he was also famous as a poultryman and a consummate expert in that field, so some of his early poultry paintings are highly prized and of more than equal value.
In 1896, he was teamed up with the writer Edith Carrington, to produce a wonderful but little-known work entitled THE CAT, Her Place in Society and Treatment.
Carrington and Weir were both campaigners for animal welfare, and their friendship was a robust one. About the time of Weir's death in early 1906, Carrington had started a new journal called 'Our Animal Brothers', in the first issue of which she wrote a long and glowing obituary of Weir, which included this brief commentary in which she quoted from Weir himself:
She then finished her tribute by quoting from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
A little over ten years earlier, she and Weir had collaborated on a small series of Children's books about Animals, written by Carrington and illustrated by the aging artist, who was already by that time past his 70th year. Although not a part of that specific series, THE CAT, Her Place in Society and Treatment was published by George Bell and Sons, containing many new drawings and anecdotes about cats. The original drawings were rendered in Pen and Ink, using either blue, black or sepia coloured inks, and almost all were signed and dated.
What is not generally known about Weir, is that he suffered significant personal losses during his lifetime. He somewhat tragically outlived two of his three wives, and three of his four children. His first wife was Ann Herring, the eldest daughter of the famous horse painter John Frederick Herring Snr. With Ann, he had four children, two sons and two daughters. They were married for 29 years, Ann dying after a relatively short illness in 1874. He was married a second time, to Alice Mary Upjohn, in 1875 and this marriage lasted another 23 years, until Alice also died in 1898, when Harrison was 74 years old.
Even though all his children lived well into adulthood, it is estimated that his eldest daughter Edith, died on an as-yet unspecified date between 1885 and 1891, after a long and protracted illness, leaving a husband and no issue. His eldest son, Arthur Herring Weir; who was a Civil Engineer working at the time in La Paz, Bolivia, died suddenly in 1902, leaving a wife and two children. Then his unmarried youngest daughter, Grace Harrison Weir, died after what appears to have been a short illness in 1903.
Weir himself, is known to have himself suffered long and repeated bouts of various illnesses, dying in January 1906, in his 82nd year. He was survived by his third wife Eva, and only remaining youngest son, John Gilbert Weir, who was married with two children and who lived well into his mid-nineties, dying a couple of years after the end of the Second World War.
Alice Mary Weir (nee Upjohn)
In this instance, an image was produced of a woman convalescent, in bed, cossetting an appreciative domestic cat with her hand, after the cat had jumped up onto the bed. It is highly unlikely that Weir would have looked outside of his own home for a suitable model, as his second wife, Alice Mary Upjohn;(to whom he had dedicated his epic book Our Cats, in 1889) was already often convalescent at home when this drawing was executed in 1896. She suffered from frequent and worsening episodes of bronchitis, and possibly bronchial asthma, passing away from complications associated with her illnesses, only a little over two years later, in December of 1898.
Harrison's dedication to her in his book, reads thus:
TO MY DEAR WIFE ALICE MARY I DEDICATE THIS BOOK. IN TOKEN OF MY APPRECIATION OF HER GENTLE AND TENDER KINDNESS TOWARDS ALL ANIMAL LIFE, MORE PARTICULARLY "THE CAT." "Iddesleigh," Sevenoaks, March 12th, 1889
It seems probable that Alice was the love of his life, strongly evidenced by the fact that after his own death in 1906, his will specified that he chose to be buried with her, in the churchyard of St. Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks; the village in which they had spent the greatest portion of their married life together. His third wife, and sole surviving son it would appear, did not voice any objection to his stated desire.
When Alice passed away, both Weir and his eldest son were seriously ill, so much so, that Weir was unable to attend the funeral as he would have so wished. His youngest son and youngest daughter both attended, and Weir's feelings for his beloved Alice were eloquently expressed in the inscription written on the card which accompanied his own personal wreath:
to a gentle, true, fondly loving, good and devoted wife.
Blessed are they who live in the love of God
And all His wondrous works".
The drawing of the cat with Alice, in this case; is, when married to the facts surrounding his home-life and Alice's convalescence; a very poignant reminder that not all the circumstances are obvious when we view a record of what is essentially a glimpse into a very private moment in Weir's personal life. We can clearly see in both the drawing and his written tributes to his beloved Alice, the true, deep and heartfelt emotions. of a man moved by their joint passion for a love of all animals.
On their joint gravestone, is added a quote from the well-known hymn:
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.'
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