• mh

Purrrfectly splendid

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

TALLINN 26 September 2020 – 28 February 2021

Kadriorg Art Museum Always by Our Side: Cats and Dogs in 16th‒19th-Century Art


Is it any wonder, in the world of social media and click bait, that this exhibition should find its way onto Northeast?


As I got off the tram and walked the gravel path up to Kadriorg Palace, and as the promised rain started to fall, I was wondering what I was doing coming out on a dreary Sunday to see an exhibition about cats and dogs. Am I really so driven by the need for click bait? I nevertheless elbowed my way through a group sheltering from the rain under the portico near the front entrance, shook the rain off my jacket, paid my entry fee and climbed the oak stairs to the exhibition halls.


It has been a long time since I ventured inside a museum serving up historical images, and as usual it took me a few moments to get in the swing of it. Looking at oils, watercolours, engravings and ceramic objet d’art always demands a certain approach, a certain delving into the past, making connections across what else you know about a certain period and a certain place, be it Holland or Germany or Russia, or maybe Tartu around the (second) birth of its university. In any case, there is more to this exhibition than the pure and simple entertainment of the depiction of our fine feathered or furry friends, although there is also plenty of that. A little corny I know, but while I was safe and dry inside the palace, it had to be raining cats and dogs outside.


The exhibition is hung in five rooms each with its own theme exploring animals that work for us, animals as symbols, animals as members of the family, animals that never let us down and also just animals. I say animals, but of course, the exhibition is focused on cats and dogs, while some other species creep in here and there. Some works are all about the cats or dogs, while in others they are just incidental elements or even spectators to the main action – sometimes with humorous affect. For example, what could have caused this pooch to have such a sour face?

And what is this spaniel so aghast at?

In some works you can also play spot the pet (did you see one cat in the main image above or...?). While I was there my fellow visitors included two young children thoroughly taken with the task of finding every cat or dog they could and seeing which picture has the most. Their parents were clearly glad of a day out that had scope for them and their children. Meanwhile, two young guys in their twenties were pawing over every image, as were three women possibly entering their second childhood. What would they have made of this hound?

Or these trinkets...


Ultimately, this was not a wasted trip after all. I enjoyed the thematic arrangement of the rooms and how the variety of works led you in different directions. As a last bonus before finishing my tour, I was pleased to see a contemporary piece by Edith Karlson – her Vox Populis (2015–2020) which fitted in perfectly.


On until the 28 February


Always by Our Side: Cats and Dogs in 16th‒19th-Century Art 26 September 2020 – 28 February 2021

Kadriorg Art Museum


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Post by Michael Haagensen

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