Open accessibilty tools
Back to Blog

Henriette Ronner-Knip’s Cat Paintings

Henriette Ronner-Knip is known for her paintings of animals, especially cats, and five of her paintings are part of the art collection of Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Services.

Cat Study (1902) by Henriette Ronner-Knip, oil painting. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council.

Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Services are home to a large and varied art collection – most of which is available to view online through Art UK – and this includes five paintings of cats by the Dutch-Belgian artist Henriette Ronner-Knip.

Henriette was born in Amsterdam in 1821. Most of her family were artists and she was taught from eleven years old to draw and paint by her father Joseph August Knip, who had once been the personal artist to Emperor Napoleon III of France. He was beginning to lose his eyesight and believed that his daughter could become a successful artist and earn a large income for the family. He insisted that she spend her every waking hour learning to paint, and taught her not to copy the techniques of other artists, but to trust what she could see and in her own painting skills.

Cat Study (1895) by Henriette Ronner-Knip, oil painting. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council.

Her father’s rigorous training paid off and by the time she was 16 she was producing paintings to sell at a fast pace, and she was taking part in some notable exhibitions, such as the Exhibition of Living Masters in the Netherlands in 1838. Her paintings were usually of countryside landscapes, farms, castles and still-lifes, but she was starting to paint more scenes of animals. She especially liked to paint cats and dogs.

In 1850 Henriette married Feico Ronner, who due to ill-health was unable to work and became her manager. They settled in Brussels and had six children. It was in their new home, which also had a large garden and room for plenty of pets, that Henriette began to focus solely on painting cats and dogs. Her later works feature mother cats with her kittens, cats playing or hunting, and even some examining her paints and brushes. While she often painted cats that she owned, she would observe their behaviour and then use paper models set up in poses when it came to producing her paintings.

Cat Study (1901) by Henriette Ronner-Knip, oil painting. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council.

The paintings held by Hartlepool were produced between 1895 and 1902. They are all titled ‘Cat Study’, and a study is a word often used by artists to describe the first copy of a painting or an experimentation of how to paint something. Some studies include little attention to the background of a painting and instead focus on capturing the details and features of the painting’s subject. Her cats all show recognisable behaviour, such as how they sit, look about and the way they sleep against each other, and her painting style emphasises the softness of their fur.

Cat Study (1901) by Henriette Ronner-Knip, oil painting. This cat is in a relaxed position called ‘loafing’, in which they lay with their paws tucked under their chest. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council.

Henriette Ronner-Knip was very popular in her time, especially with the pet-owning bourgeois classes of Europe. Like her father before her she was hired by royalty to paint their pets, including the lapdogs of Marie Henriette of Austria, Queen of the Belgians. She also won many awards for her art and became a member of artist societies and academies. Just before her death in 1909, she was admitted into the Order of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands, an Order open to “everyone who has performed acts of special merits for society”.

Cat Study (1895) by Henriette Ronner-Knip, oil painting. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council.