Harris often hangs out on the mantel these days, always in front of Possum's portrait. Generally, he looks hurt, peeved, or smug.
His reasons are obvious, of course. He can't understand why anyone who would paint Possum and Lion wouldn't insist on also painting him. He is, after all, the Most Important Cat because of his many sterling qualities. He has every sterling quality there is, in fact, including as much humility as a cat with Harris's gifts could ever have.
He is also well aware of his great physical beauty and his expressive face.
I told him that Possum and Lion were painted while the artist was a student, and that we would commission his portrait from her when she finishes her demanding program and has more time to concentrate on painting for enjoyment rather than homework. I essentially told him (out of everyone else's earshot) that she had practiced by painting his brothers before attempting to immortalize Him.
He saw the good sense of that immediately and was relieved:
I love natural woodwork so I should love this milk-chocolatey house on Telegraph Hill in South Boston, built in 1880 and listed for $1,150,000. It is a Redfin "Hot Home," meaning it's generating a lot of buyer activity and is likely to go under agreement in just a few days. It has four levels, 2,100 square feet, four bedrooms, two baths, custom woodwork and inlays, tin ceilings, and a deck on every level, including a big roof deck with a hot tub.
What's not to love?
All photos: Douglas Elliman Real Estate, via Redfin.com
Just about everything, I'm sorry to report — at least to Picky Little Me. Because of those "custom" finishes. (Note: "custom" woodwork is rarely as good as "original" woodwork.)
For example, this kitchen wall appears to be stained, finished plywood. There was probably some nice beadboard wainscot there once upon a time.
I know I'm a snob. I like finishes to match, or at least harmonize. Mixing metals is trendy right now (steel kitchen appliances with gold faucets and hardware, for example) but it makes me clench my teeth. I have no idea why the cabinets clash with the walls, why the dining room set clashes with everything, or why anyone thinks tin looks better painted gold. I don't even want to know.
The brick walls and ceiling are great, though:
The gold-and-plywood theme seems to carry into other rooms although, in the TV room, the walls are so shiny that they look more like plastic or Formica:
I will admit that their leather club chair is in better condition than ours, but then everyone's leather chair is in better shape than ours. (Which is not to say that most of them aren't uglier, just less battered.)
The metal stair railings in this Victorian-era home didn't surprise me at all, except that they aren't gold:
I'm half-Italian and my instinct tells me that an Italian is responsible for all of this handiwork. I could be wrong, but I have had relatives who would swoon for this place.
This bathroom is interesting, if a little dizzying:
I have angled cherry paneling in my own bathroom so I can relate to this a little. But there's a lot going on, partly because of that lively faux green-marble tile.
Angled wood paneling appears elsewhere, too.
If you're thinking of doing this in your own house, I don't think it's a good idea to use knotty pine, because the diagonals plus the polka-dot effect are doubly distracting.
It was a good decision not to angle the paneling in this tiny room but the paneling itself still strikes me as a bad decision:
For one thing, I think it's fake. If it isn't, it still looks fake.
Here's another bedroom with plywood paneling and a less-gilded tin ceiling. Pine-paneled rooms can have a lot of charm (especially in rural settings) and I think this room has the most charm of any in the house. But it still needs help. Those shelves need books. Those curtains need to go. That ceiling fan . . .
Have you noticed that nearly every room has a variation on the same standard-ugly brass ceiling fan? The room below has TWO:
Note that this room is not the same living room with the golden ceiling and shiny walls that we saw above. This one has wall-to-wall and an angled ceiling. And some glass blocks off to the right. This is an attic room.
People usually skimp on the wall treatment of their utility rooms and closet, but not here. This is the pine-paneled laundry room:
This looks to be a very fancy cedar closet/dressing room that had a tornado pass through:
There are two rooms that don't have any custom woodwork. This rather monastic bedroom has a cake-frosting ceiling and a piece of wood inexplicably sticking out from high up on a wall:
No one got around to paneling the second bathroom, either. I get the feeling that neither of these rooms has any windows. I also get the feeling that these rooms were originally WILD colors and were painted white as part of the realtor staging. (Not that I see many other signs of staging, but who KNOWS what was in this house before it went on the market. I'd assume a lot of taxidermy. Plywood walls are made for taxidermy deer, bear, and moose.)
Finally, here are the outdoor spaces. The owners seem to be trying to bring that painted floor back to the original wood through neglect. And that seems to be a drunken Charlie Chaplin in the corner:
Here's another deck. I would kill to have a simple little deck like this in Back Bay:
The roof deck has a fancy grill and a scary plywood box that might function as a bar or countertop:
There's a pergola that needs vines to shade the hot tub:
Nice views of trees and civilization Back Bay:
While the inside of the house would bother me substantially, I'd be content to spend a summer on the roof deck, especially after some judicious painting or staining, and adding a ton of potted plants and nicer furniture.
You will want to make it through this to the bottom. Or just skip all the words and scroll down.
Back in 2016, I received a nice message from an art student in Maryland, who was reading this blog for the stories about our cats and our neighborhood. She and her husband were planning to move to Boston in a few years, to be near their two daughters, and they were looking for a condo in Back Bay. She asked me for permission to paint an oil portrait of Possum for one of her classes, using a photo from the blog. This one:
And she promised to give it to us if it turned out well. She sent me a photo of a portrait of her own Siamese, and it was GOOD.
So I said Yes with alacrity. Possum and I were delighted.
"Mr. Sargent will see it and then he will insist on painting me, too! Then I will be famous." said Possum.
"Mr Sargent really isn't going out much these days, if at all, as I keep telling you. But you never listen." I replied.
Possum is intelligent and well-informed in many respects, but his understanding of time, history, and death remain hazy, as cats tend to live in the moment. He can't understand how John Singer Sargent could be dead when his pictures are still around. He expects him to show up here any day, to set up his easel in front of the velvet armchair.
"I wonder how I will handle being famous," said Possum. "I must try not to let it affect my beautiful manners and exquisite humility."
"Oh, I'm not worried about that at all," I said.
The (living) painter sent me a photo of Possum's portrait and I was stunned at how good it was. It perfectly captures Possum's thoughtful expression, his features, his markings, coloring — everything.
I was amazed: I'd decided it must be next to impossible to paint cats because hardly anyone ever does a decent job. There's always something wrong with the mouth, or the nose, or the shape of the head. I have probably seen two contemporary cat paintings in my life that I coveted, besides this one of Possum. And I'd seen a whole collection of cat art in a local auction house. And all of it left me cold. (I do like many of the cat paintings of Wilhelm Schwar (1860-1943). This one is my favorite.)
Throughout history, cats have been painted badly. In Dutch genre paintings, they often look like they've been cross-bred with rodents. They often look nasty or evil. In folk paintings, they often look a little better but they have strangely human faces and/or dopey expressions. Even in French art-nouveau posters, which I love, any cats are usually disappointingly stylized, with un-catlike faces and strangely shaped eyes and bodies. Hardly anyone paints cats that look like cats.
But Possum's portraitist did!
My husband and I met the painter, "L," when she was visiting Boston a year ago to plan her daughter's wedding. We sat over tea at the Trident and talked for hours. She is taking an intensive, multi-year course in painting; her instructors were working her to the bone.
We were thrilled when L asked us if she could paint Lion's portrait next, and she chose this photo, which is pure Lion: handsome and intelligent, but nervous:
Actually, only some of us were thrilled. Harris was not. He is extremely jealous although he tries not to show it. He knows it's not nice to be jealous. But he also feels that if HE is jealous, how can it possibly be wrong? I hope L might decide to paint him, and Toffee and Wendy, too. I may need to commission her for three more portraits. And then we'll need an apartment with more wall space.
You have been waiting to see the paintings, and here they are:
This blogs has brought me marvelous, entirely unexpected gifts (I never expected anyone to find it and read it): the new friends I've made, and the old friends I've bored entertained, and now these paintings. I am grateful, to my readers and to this amazing and generous painter. Thank you! SaveSave
Harris thinks I have too many magazines, and he's right.
He doesn't understand why I don't sit on that pile, as he does, quickly absorb all of the information by osmosis, as cats do, and then knock everything on the floor so I can slide around and make a mess. Because what else are magazines for?
I'm embarrassed to report that it's still November in Old New Yorker Land. My excuse is that I have been obsessively surfing the web, addict that I am reading library books (but not nearly enough to justify that ever-growing pile under Harris). I was in the same place last year at this time, so I stopped reading anything political, which sped things up and got me into January by the end of the month. But I'm already doing that now, and it's not helping. There's no hope. I'll have lots of New Yorkers to read in the hot tub at the inn in Maine this summer, as always. And then there's all the Vanity Fairs!