Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection—The Rivals (Little Kittens) by Mihály Munkácsy

Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844–1900) The Rivals (Little Kittens), 1885 Oil on wood panel 34 3/4 x 45 11/16 in. (88.27 x 116.05 cm) Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton L139 Photo credit P. Richard Eells
Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844–1900), The Rivals (Little Kittens), 1885. Oil on wood panel, 34 3/4 x 45 11/16 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton L139. Photo credit P. Richard Eells.

In honor of mother’s day this month, I thought that I would write about a painting that not only features one mother, but two!  You’ll find The Rivals (Little Kittens) by Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844-1900) in the Museum’s Gallery #10 with 19th-century European paintings.

The painting shows a woman (mother #1) and her child on a sofa watching two kittens wrestling.  Meanwhile, a cat (mother #2) sits on the floor, watching the tussle from below.

Dated 1885, The Rivals shows us a comfortable French drawing room of what Americans recognized as the Victorian period. This family is clearly well-off financially, with up-to-date furnishings, opulent red decorations, and a fantastic potted plant.  Visible in the lower left, even the cat has her own fur-lined bed.  In fact, having housecats at all meant the family was of means.  In the late 19th century, it had become a popular trend for the upper middle class to own cats.

As can be deduced by the family-oriented subject, the painting was aimed at a bourgeois market interested in displaying ideals such as domesticity, prosperity, and refinement. These were known as salon pictures, which is the French word for living room.