Monet’s cat has found its way home to the artist’s house in Giverny, in northern France. During the painter’s lifetime, the glazed biscuit pottery cat, made in Japan, spent many years curled up on a pillow in the bright yellow dining room lined with Japanese prints. Monet, who loved Japanese art, was probably given the object by an admirer from Japan.
An American visitor recalled seeing the cat in Monet’s house in 1924, a few months before the artist’s death. According to the socialite Pauline Howard-Johnston, it had been placed on a couch: “On a pillow, a white cat—sort of unpolished terracotta—sleeping snugly,” she said. Later, she saw it in the home of Michel, Monet’s second son, who would be killed in a car crash in 1966.
A surprising discovery has now been made about Michel, who married but was assumed to have remained childless. He apparently had an illegitimate daughter, Rolande Verneiges, who was given a treasure trove of Monet works and memorabilia by her loving father. Born in around 1914, she died in 2008, and her existence remained unknown, even to Monet specialists, until last autumn.
Adrien Meyer, an expert at Christie’s in Impressionist art, succeeded in tracking down Verneiges’s daughter. During a visit to her apartment, he saw works by Monet stored everywhere, with unframed paintings under the beds. Among the memorabilia was the lost cat, which, he told us, “was very casually sitting on the piano”.
The family decided to sell the rediscovered art and heirlooms at Christie’s Hong Kong last November. With more than three-quarters of the lots going to Asian buyers, the sale fetched a total of HK$85.5m (US$10.9m).
The mid-19th-century cat (est HK$25,000-HK$35,000) went for more than 20 times its low estimate, selling for HK$525,000 (US$67,000). It was bought by the Japanese art and coin dealer Hideyuki Wada. He immediately donated it to the Fondation Claude Monet, which opens the house in Giverny to visitors.
The cat has just returned to Monet’s dining room, once again ensconced on a cushion. Hanging immediately above it is a facsimile of one of the Japanese prints acquired by Monet, Utagawa Hiroshige’s dramatic depiction of a swooping eagle. Normally, birds need to beware of cats, but here it is the dozing feline that appears to be the vulnerable one.