From Monet to Monette: the Art of being a Globetrotting Cat
by Colin Randall
Monette the cat may be blissfully unaware but, for her Anglo-French owners, a visit to a wonderful new art exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, Painting the Modern Garden, “Monet to Matisse”, brought it all back.
Monette’s name is no accident. She was born at a restaurant within easy walking distance of the French painter, Claude Monet’s, glorious old home and gardens, water-lilies and all, at Giverny, just 40 miles outside Paris.
Joelle and I had just moved from London and went along with Parisian friends for a Saturday visit. Over a late lunch, after absorbing the beauty, scents and tranquility of Monet’s residence, we became aware of a gorgeous scrap of feline life snapping around our heels.
“Is she for sale?” Joelle asked the waitress. The unnamed kitten had been part of a litter born a week or so earlier and it turned out the owner was only too pleased to let us take her away without charge. It required a few purchases – basket, food, litter, tray, toys - at a supermarket on the way home, but she was about to become a chic Parisienne.
Being a “she”, the name, “Monet” wasn’t quite right. So Monette she instantly became.
Twelve years later, she still couldn’t care less about her brush, as it were, with artistic origins.
But, she has led an eventful life that took her from Giverny to a fabulous apartment overlooking the Jardin des Tuileries on the rue de Rivoli in the heart of Paris (it went with the job), A year in Provence (or nearly), a year in Abu Dhabi, and then a return to Europe.
Nowadays, she spends six months of each year dodging fierce grey squirrels and urban foxes in London and the other six months eyeing up poor lizards not far from Saint-Tropez in the south of France.
It is tempting to imagine we are back in the early 1920s and the generously bearded old Claude Monet is standing in his magnificent gardens, wondering where to place Monette in one of the final works of a long life as an artist.
But, that’s the fantasy. Monette’s arrival in the world of Giverny came 78 years after Monet’s death. So, no trace of her at the exhibition. It still felt a little like visiting the old school of one of your children, only without the child.
In truth, Monette quickly threw off whatever country ways she’d learned in her first few days of life.
The photo of her occupying my professionally untidy newspaperman’s desk (I was in those days the Paris correspondent of The London’s Daily Telegraph) gives an idea of the life she has chosen for herself whenever indoors, utterly unmoved by any convenience her chosen place of slumber might cause.
That apartment in the City of Romance had five bedrooms, big enough to accommodate the newspaper’s fashion department during the famous Paris catwalk shows and certainly big enough to accommodate Monette.
She left it only for picnic outings, on an elasticated cat lead, to the Bois de Boulogne or Tuileries and, twice, in attempts to abscond. The first had me crawling precariously along the narrow balcony to retrieve her; the second ended with the Telegraph’s eccentric fashion editor of the day, Hilary Alexander, being both the cause of her escape and the author of her safe recapture.
Come the start of 2007, Monette’s Provençal interlude began. It was more than literally a breath of fresh air. Finally, allowed to resume outdoor living, she quickly decided which neighbouring cats to like, or at least tolerate - and which to loathe. And most, though not all, the lizards, grasshoppers and birds, soon realised the wisdom of staying out of harm’s way.
Abu Dhabi offered a more miserable experience. Going out was inadvisable since doing so made a cat liable, at best, to be kicked around like a football by local youths or, at worst, put down by municipal workers obeying orders to round up strays.
Monette probably felt it entirely appropriate that, at the end of her time in the Middle East, she travelled back to Europe more expensively than her owners. Or so it seemed when the costs of repatriation were weighed up by grudging employers. The London half of her year is drawing to its close; from mid-March, she’ll be back near the Mediterranean, doubtless dreaming in French once more and renewing battle with feline neighbours and the creatures of our little garden.
And she’ll never regret that her birthright didn’t qualify her for family admission rates for the Monet exhibition.
You can read more about Monette in, "The Lily-painting Monet's Role in the Life of Monette, the Globe-trotting Cat"
About the Guest Author
Colin Randall, a staff correspondent for The Daily Telegraph
, Oct. 1977—Sept. 2006, worked as a reporter in Southwest England/South Wales, London and Paris.
Visit Colin at his website, Salut!
, where he writes about France, current affairs, travel, the media and more. You can find Colin on Twitter