1938, La Feline Bruxelles Bronze Medal

MUSEUMFACTFILE
ClassificationMedal/Medallion
CategoryMedallion
ArtifactLa Feline Bruxelles Bronze Medal
Date1938
ConnectionBrussels Cat Club - 'La Feline Bruxelles' or 'Cat Club a Bruxelles'
CollectionThe Harrison Weir Collection
DescriptionPre-WWII Rectangular Bronze Medallion, featuring a stylised cat
Brief HistoryAwarded to an unknown recipient, 20th November, 1838
AcquisitionPurchased by John Smithson for The Harrison Weir Collection, 2018

La Feline Bruxelles Bronze Medal. Awarded to an unknown recipient, 20th November, 1838
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collecton

Historical Background

Over the years, medallions and other show awards, have followed the pre-eminent artistic stylisation of their respective era, and this is also particularly noticeable in all classes of feline related jewellery. This piece, although dated 1938, is stylistically reminiscent of the late Art Nouveaux period.

However, long before Cat Exhibiting was popularised in Brussels, some Belgian communities appear to have enjoyed partaking in another rare form of feline activity, that of 'cat racing', rather akin to their already very well publicised, highly popular, and successful 'pigeon racing'.

Cat Racing in Belgium

Thanks to Harrison Weir, we can cite the following record published in his epic work, Our Cats, in 1889; of a curious social sporting phenomenon that took place in Belgium in the 19th century. In this, he quotes directly from an article found in the Pictorial Times, which dates from June 16th, 1860:

"On festival days, parties of young men assemble in various places to shoot with cross-bows and muskets, and prizes of considerable value are often distributed to the winners. Then there are pigeon-clubs and canary-clubs, for granting rewards to the trainers of the fleetest carrier- pigeons and the best warbling canaries. Of these clubs many individuals of high rank are the honorary presidents, and even royal princes deign to present them banners, without which no Belgian club can lay claim to any degree of importance.

"But the most curious thing is cat-racing, which takes place, according to an engraving, in the public thoroughfare, the cats being turned loose at a given time. It is thus inscribed: "Cat- racing is a sport which stands high in popular favour. In one of the suburbs of Liege, it is an affair of annual observance during the carnival time. Numerous individuals of the feline tribe are collected, each having round his neck a collar with a seal attached to it, precisely like those of the carrier-pigeons. The cats are tied up in sacks, and as soon as the clock strikes the solemn hour of midnight the sacks are unfastened, the cats let loose, and the race begins. The winner is the cat which first reaches home, and the prize awarded to its owner is sometimes a ham, sometimes a silver spoon. On the occasion of the last competition, the prize was won by a blind cat."

Although Weir alludes to an engraving, no image is provided in his book; but the below illustration of this event was published on at least two occasions in the English press, this version dating from 1879, coincidentally appearing in The Pictorial World.

'COURSE Des CHATS' or CAT RACING IN BRUSSELS, organised by the SOCIETE DES KATOPHILES Published in The Pictorial World, January 4th, 1879.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

The Early Cat Fancy in Brussels

The cat fancy was active in Brussels from the late 19th century, with the premier Exhibition of the Cat Club of Brussels taking place in 1891. An original full-page print, featuring an etching of some of the beautiful exhibits from that show is held in The Harrison Weir Collection, and is shown below.

A LA PREMIERE EXPOSITION DU CAT CLUB A BRUXELLES, 1891
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

Brussels was also the home of Madame Henriette Ronner-Knip, the famous painter of cats and dogs, who was coincidentally, an Honorary Vice-President of the National Cat Club, during the mid-1890's.

The newly appointed President of the National Cat Club during that period, was Mary, Duchess of Bedford, avid and active fancier of both Siamese and Persian type cats, both of which she kept on the Ducal estate at Woburn Abbey. In fact, the Duchess took her aging Siamese male 'Goblin' on a journey to Brussels in 1899 to be painted by Henriette Ronner. The result, was a masterful rendering in oils of one of the most iconic Siamese cats of that era. A photograph of the painting appeared on the cover page of 'Our Cats' published November 10th, 1900. The painting, in the same ornate gilt frame, fortunately survives to this day, and is part of the late Duchess' estate, and is on occasion still exhibited in her private apartments.

MADAME HENRIETTE RONNER IN HER BRUSSELS STUDIO IN 1894
The mahogany case was made especially for her, to temporarily contain cats that she wished to paint.

Photo by A.Alexandre, Brussels. Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

THE OIL PAINTING OF THE SIAMESE CAT 'GOBLIN', COMPLETED IN BRUSSELS BY HENRIETTE RONNER, IN 1899. Commissioned by The Duchess of Bedford, and now housed in the late Duchess' apartments at Woburn Abbey.
Photo from Our Cats November 10th, 1900. Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

Conclusion

Brussels, and indeed all of Belgium, continues to take an active part in the modern cat fancy. Its clubs regularly hold cat shows that attract exhibits from all corners of Europe. In the twentieth century, many fine examples of Belgian Silver and Bronze feline medallions were produced, and these remain highly collectable items to this day.

LA FELINE BRUXELLES BRONZE MEDALLION, AWARDED 20th NOVEMBER, 1938
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

References

  1. Our Cats Magazine, November 10th, 1900.
  2. Chasse Et Peche 1891.
  3. Pictorial World, January 4th, 1879.
  4. The Sketch, October 24th, 1894.
  5. 'La Feline Bruxelles' Medal 1938, Images courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection.
  6. Text John Smithson, 2018


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