Dame Wiggins of Lee edited by John Ruskin, illustrated by Kate Greenaway c. 1825 © The British Library Board

Sheet music cover by Louis Wain for P. Bucalossi’s ‘Tabby Polka’, 1865 © The British Library Board

Chromolithograph of Puss pulling on his boots, 1887. Artist unknown © The British Library Board

Mrs Tabitha’s Cats’ Academy by Ernest Nister, 1892 © The British Library Board

Annotated page from Lewis Carroll’s 1893 edition of Through the Looking-Glass © The British Library Board

Northumberland Bewitched!! by Lilian Lancaster c. 1897 © The British Library Board

Japanese fairy tale series, 1905 © The British Library Board

‘Winnie turns Wilbur green’, from Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, 1987 © Korky Paul/Oxford University Press

Cats on the Page brings familiar and much-loved feline favourites together with the eclectic and unexpected to celebrate the myriad ways in which cats have captured the cultural imagination for hundreds of years. Through an array of poetry, artwork, fables and fairy tales from around the world, this free exhibition, staged in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, explores the various literary guises that cats have appeared under throughout the centuries: from comical cats to master criminals, the lovable to the mysterious and magical.

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Books, manuscripts and artwork from the British Library’s own collections are displayed together for the first time alongside a number of original illustrations, with loans from Seven Stories, Judith Kerr, Posy Simmonds, Axel Scheffler, Quentin Blake and the T.S. Eliot Foundation. The exhibition’s run coincides with the 80th anniversary year of the original publication of Eliot’s classic poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

The exhibition includes elements such as a family trail, sound recordings and a children’s reading corner, and an accompanying events programme for all ages.

Highlights include:

  • Original illustrations by much-loved artists including Mog by Judith Kerr, Beatrix Potter’s Kitty-in-Boots as imagined by Quentin Blake, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams, Fred by Posy Simmonds and two illustrations for T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by Axel Scheffler.
  • Lewis Carroll’s own copy of the exceptionally rare third edition of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (1893), in which the author notes his frustration with the printing including a comment on an illustration of Alice’s kitten.
  • A selection of sound recordings including a reading of Macavity the Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot, songs from the musical Cats and Disney’s The Aristocats and music by The Cure.
  • Edward Lear’s charming doodles of himself and his cat, Foss, contained within a letter written to a friend in
  • A 16th-century pamphlet on witchcraft describing the activities of Elizabeth Stile and three other ‘notorious witches’, with a woodcut image accompanying the description of the black cat or familiar belonging to Mother Devell (who is alleged to have fed it with milk mixed with her own blood).
  • A letter written by T.S. Eliot to his friend Geoffrey Tandy’s daughter, Alison, containing a draft of his poem ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’ and signed off with his nickname ‘Possum’; displayed alongside Alison’s reply including delightful drawings of the two cats, on loan from the T.S. Eliot Foundation.

“Cats have inspired our imagination and creativity for many years – long before their days of dominance on the internet,” says lead curator Alison Bailey. “At an early age we meet them in rhymes and picture books whilst as adults we are introduced to more stories to savour and reflect upon. By bringing cats we know and love together with new ones from unexpected sources, Cats on the Page showcases the lighthearted side of the British Library’s world-class collections through a selection of just some of the hundreds of paws prowling the pages of its books and manuscripts.”

 

Jellicle Cats, 2009 by Axel Scheffler, from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot © Axel Scheffler/Faber & Faber

Open until Sunday 17 March
Cats on the Page
British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Monday 9:30 am to 6 pm
Tuesday 9:30 am to 8 pm
Wednesday to Friday 9:30 am to 6 pm
Saturday 9:30 am to 5 pm
Sunday 11 am to 5 pm
Free admission
More info

Exhibition supported by
Animal Friends pet insurance

Illustration by Quentin Blake for a new edition of Beatrix Potter’s Kitty-in-Boots, 2016 © Quentin Blake/Frederick Warne & Co.

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