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The Cat Cabinet: another quirky Amsterdam museum

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series Amsterdam Museums

The founder of the Cat Cabinet, Bob Meijer, named his cat John Pierpont Morgan. Why name him after a 19th century American financier? I don’t know.

LHiver: Chat sur un coussin 1909, by Theophile Alexander Steinlen. At the Cat Cabinet, Amsterdam.

L’Hiver: Chat sur un coussin (1909), by Theophile Alexander Steinlen

Born in 1966, J.P. Morgan received a special gift from Meijer every five years. On his fifth birthday, it was a portrait by Ansel Sanberg. On his tenth, his present was a bronze statue of himself. When J.P. Morgan reached the venerable age of 15, Meijer gave him a book of limericks about cats, written for the occasion. J.P. Morgan also received a US dollar bill on which Washington’s portrait had been replaced with his own.

One can only imagine what this ordinary cat with a grand name thought of such gifts.

Cat Art at the Cat Cabinet

The collection that Meijer left behind makes up the Kattenkabinet: the Cat Cabinet. Within its rooms, the walls, cases and all available surfaces are covered with – you guessed it! – cats. In particular, this “museum” is about cat art.

Ceramic cats in a cabinet at the Cat Cabinet, Amsterdam

Ceramic cats in a cabinet at the Cat Cabinet

Paintings, prints and etchings span the range of quality from movie posters (a publicity poster for the Italian version of Disney’s “The Cat from Outer Space,” for example) to Rembrandt. In terms of history, they range from ancient Egypt to the last decades of the 20th century.

I couldn’t see any evidence that whoever arranged the collection put any thought into the quality of the objects on display. I was astounded to discover the Rembrandt drawing (Madonna with child, cat and snake, 1654) in a dark corner of the “Mechelen room.” It hangs in the shadow of a mannequin wearing a costume from the musical “Cats.” A Picasso etching hangs nearby.

Just under the mannequin's left hand is a small etching by Rembrandt, in the Cat Cabinet in Amsterdam

Just under the mannequin’s left hand is a small drawing by Rembrandt

The mantel in the same room accommodates a jumble of cat-shaped objects, from what looks like mass-produced ceramics to a mummified cat from ancient Egypt.

The mummified cat in the small case keeps company with some decidedly newer ceramic cats. Cat Cabinet, Amsterdam

The mummified cat in the small case keeps company with some decidedly newer ceramic cats.

The Cat Cabinet’s building

The building that houses the Cat Cabinet is one of many stately homes dating to the “Golden Age” in Amsterdam in the 1600s. The brothers Willem and Adriaen van Loon built this and the neighboring house together in 1667, each moving into one. It passed through a series of prominent owners, even playing host to John Adams when he was an ambassador, before he became President. The big renovation that changed its appearance happened in 1885. Now owned by the Herengracht 497 Association, one floor is devoted to cats.

The Cat Cabinet as a museum

It’s clear that the purpose of the Cat Cabinet is simply to provide a home for the collection, which occupies four rooms on the first floor. It’s all cat-related art, but beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the displays.

The first room is impressive in its own right: the room itself, in other words, impresses despite the array of cat art on display. Originally a ballroom, the ceiling dates from the 1885 renovation, and reflects the somewhat baroque tastes of the time. The enormous windows overlooking the back garden, the ornate fireplaces with huge mirrors above them: if you ignore the overly busy cat decor, you can picture how gracious this ballroom was in its day.

A partial view of the biggest room at the Cat Cabinet

A partial view of the biggest room at the Cat Cabinet

The second room, called the Green Room, also with painted ceiling (cherubs, not cats!), overflows with art and objects, obscuring my view of the room itself. (Though you can see it with less clutter on the Cat Cabinet’s website.)

Passing through a small music room, we entered the Mechelen Room, which, from the looks of it, was originally a dining room. It is darker than the others but holds the best of the cat art in the collection, including the Rembrandt, the Picasso, and a range of other reputable artists.

a view of the Mechelen room of the Cat Cabinet in Amsterdam

a view of the Mechelen room. If you look at their website, you will see that it was much less cluttered and better lit when they took their pictures!

Actual Live Cats

When I visited this little museum with my daughter, the most entertaining part of our visit was two of the resident cats. (We spotted three live cats in all, though I can’t say how many actually live there.) These two felines had no fear of strangers or each other, and we spent some time watching them playfully pounce on, wrestle and tumble with each other. They sprinted from room to room and then battled down the stairs. (I wonder if they ever jump on the artwork when no one is around.) They finally collapsed for a rest on the ground floor in the little gift shop (cat-themed, of course). Perhaps they intended to lure us there to spend some money?

One of the residents, resting in the gift shop after battle. Cat Cabinet, Amsterdam

One of the residents, resting in the gift shop after battle.

Would I recommend this museum? If you a cat aficionado: definitely yes. Otherwise I’d say you shouldn’t bother. And stay well away if you’re allergic! To explore it digitally, you can check out their website here, filmed with much less clutter.

Make sure to check out the other posts in my series on small Amsterdam museums!


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