Gottfried Mind Original Watercolor (1790)

Classification Artwork
Category Original Art
Artifact Original Watercolour on paper by Gottfried Mind
Date circa 1790's
Connection The Raphael of Cats - Gottfried Mind (1768 -1814)
Collection The Harrison Weir Collection
Description A rare, finely detailed original watercolour on paper, by Swiss born artist and savant, Gottfried Mind; renowned for his sympathetic depiction of Cats, famously referred to as the 'Raphael of Cats'. (Unframed visible margins 34cm x 24 cm) Featuring a Short-haired Mother Cat washing one of her three kittens.
Brief History Provenance - once owned by the Von Ernst banking family of Berne, the birthplace of Gottfried Mind. Latterly from the Library of the late Marianne C. Gourary, the painting was acquired from the Galerie Grand-Rue in Geneva, by a well-known Gallery in central London.
AcquisitionPurchased for the Harrison Weir Collection, 2018

MOTHER CAT & KITTENS, by Gottfried Mind, circa 1790's
Archive of The Harrison Weir Collection

Gottfried Mind (September 25, 1768 - November 17, 1814) was a Swiss born autistic savant, who specialised in drawing and painting Children and Cats, but it is for his sympathetic depiction of cats that he was especially renown, earning him the epithet the 'Raphael of Cats'. The following are excerpts from the Wikipedia page on 'Gottfried Mind,' with specific regard to his art education and his work:


Mind, in his eighth year, was placed at the academy for poor children, which Pestalozzi had previously instituted at Neuenhof, near Bern, Aargau. In the year 1778, in this authentic account of that institution, published by the Economic Society of Bern, the following short notice:-"Friedly Mynth of Bossi (Mind of Pizy), of the bailliwick of Aubonne, resident in Worblaufen, very weak, incapable of hard work, full of talent for drawing, a strange creature, full of artist-caprices, along with a certain roguishness: drawing is his whole employment: a year and a half here: ten years old."

It is not known how long he remained at this academy; somewhere between the years 1780 and 1785, he came to the painter Sigmund Hendenberger at Bern. With him, Mind learnt his art of drawing, and colouring with water-colours.

Mind's education dealt mostly with art; he could with difficulty be made to write his name, and he had not the slightest idea of arithmetic. Mind's special talent for representing cats was discovered and awakened by chance. At the time when Hendenberger was painting that since-published picture of the peasant cleaving wood before his cottage, with his wife sitting by, and feeding her child with pap out of a pot, round which a cat is prowling, Mind cast a broad stare on the sketch of this last figure, and said in his rugged, laconic way, "That is no cat!" Hendenberger asked, with a smile, whether Mind thought he could do it better. Mind offered to try; he went into a corner, and drew the cat, which Hendenberger liked so much that he made his new pupil finish it out, and the master copied the scholar's work.

Frontispiece: Gottfried Mind - Der Katzen Raffael (1924) by Adolph Koelsch.
Archive of The Harrison Weir Collection

Continued from 'Wikipedia'


It was not till after Hendenberger's death that Mind fully developed his peculiar talent for drawing.

His pictures of peasant children, which, for the most part, are painted on small sheets, depict sports, banterings, quarrellings, sledge-parties of children, with their half-frozen but still merry faces, in their puffy yet picturesque costume.

In the course of his narrow, indoors life, he had worked himself into an almost paternal relation with domestic animals, especially with cats. While he sat painting, a cat might generally be seen sitting on his back or on his shoulder; many times he kept, for hours, the most awkward postures, that he might not disturb it. Frequently there was a second cat sitting by him on the table, watching how the work went on; sometimes a kitten or two lay in his lap under the table. Frogs (in bottle) floated beside his easel; and with all these creatures he kept up a most playful, loving style of conversation; though, often enough, any human beings about him, or such even as came to see him, were growled or grunted at in no social fashion.

His chief diligence and most careful elegance he brought to work in the painting of his beloved cats. He had both the art to seize the general nature of this animal and to reflect the specific character of each. The sycophantic look full of falseness, the dainty movements of the kittens, several of which are sometimes painted sporting round their dam-all this, in the most multifarious postures, turns, groups, sports, and quarrels, is depicted with a true observance to nature.

On Sundays and winter nights, Mind, by way of pastime, used, out of dried, wild chestnuts, to carve little cats, bears, and other beasts, and this with so much art that these little dainty toys were shortly in no less request than his drawings. It is a pity that insects, such as frequently exist in the interior of chestnuts, have already destroyed so many of these carvings.

At the Barengraben (bear-yard) in Bern, where a few live bears are always to be seen, Mind passed many a happy hour. The moment he made his appearance, the bears hastened towards him with friendly grumbling, stationed themselves on their hind feet, and received, impartially, each a piece of bread or an apple out of his pocket. For this reason, bears, next to cats, were a favourite subject of his art; and he reckoned himself, not unjustly, better able to delineate these animals than even celebrated painters have been. Moreover, next to his intercourse with living cats and bears, Mind's greatest joy was in looking at objects of art, especially copper-plates, in which, too, animal figures gave him most satisfaction.

Herr Sigmund Wagner, of Bern, who possessed a choice collection of copper-plates, frequently invited Mind, on winter Sunday evenings to his house, and would then show him his volumes. While Herr Wagner might be writing, reading, or drawing, Mind, grumbled to himself half-aloud, made his remarks on each sheet, and frequently gave a true, stubborn, rugged judgment even on the most celebrated masters, especially on pictures of animals. Among these, nothing pleased him but the lions of Rubens, of Rembrandt, and Potter, and the stags of Kidinger; the other animals of the latter he declared to be falsely drawn. Even the most applauded cats of Cornelis Visscher and Wenzel Hollar could not obtain his approbation.[5]

Mind seldom drew from Nature; at most he did it with a few strokes. His conception was so strong, that whatever he had once strictly observed, stamped itself so firmly in his memory that, on his return home, and often a considerable time afterwards, he could represent it with entire fidelity. On such occasions he would look now and then, as it were, into himself; and when at these moments, he lifted his head, his eyes had something dreamy in them.


In late 1813, Mind began suffering from "an increasing disorder in the breast" which left him unable to exert himself. On 17 November 1814, he died of this illness, at the age of 46.

From the title page of an early 19th century biography of Mind.
Archive of The Harrison Weir Collection

Many of Gottfried Mind's images are cats, both originals and antiquarian prints have been collectors pieces for over two centuries. Within a decade of his death, stone block coloured reproductions of his works were popular throughout Europe and many are valuable collector items today. One or two of these small but highly detailed prints are held in The Harrison Weir Collection, along with at least two period biographies containing multiple images of cats.

The featured watercolour which is the subject of this article, has also been reproduced in lithographic form and may be readily found in an on-line search.

When we were looking for an original piece of his work for the Collection, we sought to find a 'cat' study which would widely appeal to lovers of cats. This piece was our preferred option of the very few that were available at the time of our search.

After this piece had been secured and had arrived, we examined it in detail, finding that the artist's brushwork was so fine, that we needed extra lighting and a magnifying glass to study the detail, which is simply remarkable; very nearly photographic in its accuracy and refinement. Mind's passion for his subject is apparent, and his incredible ability and attention to detail could easily be interpreted as an act of 'adoration'.

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