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The Cat Michael Rothenstein


Michael Rothenstein Hampstead, London, 1908 – Stisted, 1993

Date 1983
Object type original print
Medium, technique woodcut, hand-coloured watercolour

60.8 x 91.4 cm

Inventory number MO.91.85
Collection Department of Art after 1800
On view This artwork is not on display

Rothenstein is one of the most inventive representatives of contemporary British graphic art. Until 1950 he mainly produced lithographs, but having learnt the radical printing procedures used by S.W. Hayter determined his subsequent work. The material effects of wood- and linocuts opened up utterly new prospects for him. In the 1970s he often screenprinted photos onto his sheets produced by a variety of techniques (see MO.91.86). His hand-painted woodcuts showing the metaphors and visual signs of cosmopolitan cities came to be predominated by enhanced expressiveness.
One of the most energetic pieces of the urban cycle is the woodcut The Cat painted over in watercolour, which he submitted to the Royal Academy three years later (in a reprint) as his diploma work. The emotional charge of the powerful forms cut into the black ground, the audacious fauvist colours are the main inspiration for Rothenstein. In these metropolitan scenes, the protagonist is violence carried by symbols such as the cock – a frequent figure in his drawings and prints since his childhood (see MO.91.84.) – an everyday metaphor of masculinity and aggression, as well as freedom. The focus of attention is, however, directed at the woman as heroine or victim. “I thought of this figure as rather cut off, mainly torso with strange dress and phallic marks… the cat, the clown and cockerel. It’s a dark celebration of sex… In ‘Cat’ she is being crucified. I’m all for letting these associations flow in. What the viewer chooses to think, I don’t really feel it matters as long as this evokes some sort of channel of excitement.” (Rothenstein, cited by Sidey.)

Ferenc Tóth

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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