- Richard Lindner 1901–1978
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 921 x 603 mm
frame: 1019 x 695 x 65 mm
- Presented anonymously 1962
Homage to a Cat is a figurative painting by the German-American artist Richard Lindner. It depicts a stylised blonde woman in a purple dress and red hat, her breasts partially exposed, holding a cat close to her body. The picture plane is almost entirely filled by her monolithic torso and head, while a marginal dark blue background emphasises the pale flesh tones in the arm and chest.
Choosing not to draw from models – Lindner claimed in 1978 that they disturbed him (Gruen 1991, p.94) – the artist formed the figures of the woman and the cat largely geometrically, using abstract structural shapes that come together to form figurative elements, an effect exemplified by the circles of the breasts and triangles of the lips. This process of construction rather than observation saw Lindner building up the composition for the painting through a series of sketches, two of which survive (both entitled Study for ‘Woman with Cat’ c.1950–2 and held in the collection of Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Nuremberg). With these structural elements in place on the canvas, Lindner thinly applied the subdued colours, creating soft, pastel tones.
In his method of using shapes to construct Homage to a Cat Lindner showed his fervent interest in the work of modernist painter Fernand Léger (1881–1955), whose clarity of form and geometric approach had a lasting influence on Lindner: ‘For me, Léger was most important … Elements of his paintings – his tools – all interested me’ (quoted in Homage to Richard Lindner 1980, p.8). While the turned head and the presence of just one arm in Homage to a Cat suggest a profile view, the chest is entirely frontal, evidencing Lindner’s experimentation with the cubist fragmentation of the human figure and flattening her against the picture plane. The effect almost suggests a picture on a deck of cards, a connection made explicit in Lindner’s later works, such as Ace of Clubs 1973 (Simona and Jerome Chazen Collection, Madison) and Solitaire 1973 (Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, Berlin).
Lindner held an enduring fascination with women as the subject of his paintings, seeing them as enigmatic and cerebral: ‘Women are more imaginative than men. They have secrets they don’t even realise they have’ (quoted in Homage to Richard Lindner 1980, p.7). The assertive turn of the woman’s head in Homage to a Cat suggests something of this mystery. While Lindner often coupled this theme with a striking eroticism in his works, here the woman’s partial nudity underlines the strength suggested by her large and powerful form. The manner in which the broad, strong arm holds up the cat, which in turn appears helpless, twisting awkwardly under the force of the arm, further underlines the power of the woman. The prominence of the cat in the work’s title might therefore come as a surprise, since it is the woman whose colossal presence dominates the canvas. However, Lindner often used animals as foils for the human content of his compositions, as he said in 1969:
To make human dramas more interesting, I sometimes incorporate other living creatures … They’re part of the composition, but they are not a character in the drama like the humans. Sometimes, the cats are a symbol for the aggressiveness of one or other of the sexes.
(Lindner, exhibition catalogue, University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley 1969, p.11.)
Bearing in mind the power of the woman and the apparent discomfort of the animal, this latter claim may suggest that Homage to a Cat expresses the control of female eroticism over the male counterpart.
Having moved to New York in 1941 to work as an illustrator, it was only in 1952 that Lindner began to paint full time. Created in the year that this transition took place, Homage to a Cat could be seen to hold a key position in Lindner’s production. While this painting appears far more subdued compared to the stark colours and bold deconstructions of space of later works such as The Street 1963 (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf), his fascination with women and animals was a lasting one.
Homage to Richard Lindner, special issue, XXe Siècle Review, New York 1980, pp.5–25, 79–98.
John Gruen, The Artist Observed: 28 Interviews with Contemporary Artists, Chicago 1991, pp.89–96.
Richard Lindner: Paintings and Watercolours 1948–1977, exhibition catalogue, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. 1997.
Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
T00538 Homage to a Cat 1952
Inscribed 'Rich. | Lindner | 1952' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 23 3/4 (92 x 60.5)
Presented anonymously 1962
Exh: Richard Lindner, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, January-February 1954 (14); Richard Lindner, Robert Fraser Gallery, London, June-July 1962 (4)
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.446, reproduced p.446