Alexander Colville’s ‘Black Cat’

By: Dara Vandor

“…one of 12 key works from the artist’s career…”

Alexander Colville, BLACK CAT, 1996, screenprint in colour; signed, dated and numbered 50/70. 14.25 x 14.25 in — 36.2 x 36.2 cm. Estimate $7,000-$9,000

Much has been written about Alexander Colville’s cinematic style of painting, and Black Cat, a relatively late print in the artist’s career, is no exception. The image depicts a Cartier-Bressonian “decisive moment”: this furry friend is intent on a little mischief, and the artist’s white ruler is moments away from clattering to the floor.

I’m sorry, were you working?

Anyone who has ever been in close proximity with Felis catus knows that when these capricious creatures have decided that when it’s tools down time, it’s tools down time. Maybe even tools down on the floor time. The image can be read as a metaphor for work interrupted—indeed, this cat has boldly stepped into Colville’s self-portrait and claimed it for its own. Similarly charming is the way that the artist’s eyes meet those of the viewer: calmly, maybe even a little wryly, conjuring up a wave of amused sympathy from anyone who has ever been muscled in on by a cat.

In a brilliant precis of this image, written for the Art Canada Institute, Ray Cronin masterfully situates Black Cat within the scope of Colville’s career, noting that it is “remarkable for integrating several themes important to Colville: the role of the artist, the dichotomy between human and animal worlds, and the precariousness of order in the face of time and chaos.”

Cronin selects Black Cat as one of 12 key works from the artist’s career, alongside Horse and Train and To Prince Edward Island. He explains that “animals in Colville’s paintings and prints serve as a foil to humans, as seen in an earlier serigraph, Cat and Artist, 1979, and in paintings such as Dog in Car, 1999, and Headstand, 1982, among many other examples. They do not strive for meaning or seek answers. As author Tom Smart observes, for Colville, “the cat is the emblem of unknowing.”  The ruler may be the focal point of the composition, but for the black cat, its function is irrelevant; it is an object to play with. The cat’s complete otherness undermines the underlying web of geometry that holds this, and every, Colville image together—order is simply irrelevant in the cat’s world. But for the artist, that geometry symbolized by the ruler is a device for creating order out of chaos, certainty out of mystery, and knowledge out of ignorance.”

Waddington’s is pleased to offer Black Cat in our Editions auction, online from April 20-25, 2024. This silkscreen dates from 1996, and is number 50 from an edition of 70. Colville made all of his prints by himself, and only released 35 screenprints between 1955 and 2002. The making of a serigraph involves forcing ink through a fine mesh screen; due to the nature of the transfer, each colour that you see in Black Cat was laid onto the paper through its own unique screen to produce a complex and layered final image. Colville explained that “one of the appeals of print-making is the discipline of the printing technique; in painting almost anything is possible—in print-making there are limitations of means; the concept must be adapted to a more economical mode of expression.”

About the auction

On view at our Toronto location:
 Monday, April 22 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, April 23 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

We’re excited about our Spring Editions auction which will feature works by International artists David Hockney, Keith Haring, Helen Frankenthaler, Christopher Wool, Friedel Dzubas, Roy Lichtenstein, Kiki Smith, Sonia Delaunay, Bridget Riley, Sol Lewitt, Terry Frost, Yoshimoto Nara, Brice Marden, Francisco de Goya, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Canadian artists including Alex Colville, Jack Bush, Jean Paul Riopelle, Alfred Pellan, Michael Snow, Christopher Pratt, Rita Letendre and more.

Please contact us for more information.

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