As an artist who specializes in pet portraits, I decided to research the lives of famous artists, writers, and designers to learn more about their pets. As I expected, eccentric personalities like to surround themselves with interesting and (at times) unusual pets.
The famous Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali is best known for his paintings, but was also an accomplished sculptor, filmmaker, printmaker, and performance artist. A known provocateur with an eccentric, flamboyant personality, Dali was the proud owner of a Columbian ocelot (dwarf wildcat) named Babou.
Dali and his pet had an unconventional social life. While an ocelot is not necessarily the best companion for social events, Dali outfitted his wildcat with a stone-studded collar and leash so Babou could accompany him out and about. In addition to taking Babou to restaurants and social gatherings, the wildcat even once joined Dali for a cruise aboard the luxury ocean liner, the SS France.
The American Modernist painter Georgia O’Keefe spent a good deal of her life living and working in New Mexico. She is well known for her paintings of flowers, New York Skyscrapers, New Mexico landscapes, and bones set against the stark desert sky.
O’Keefe had numerous pets. She first owned a cat, followed by a Black Poodle named Pancho. Unfortunately, poor Pancho was hit by a car when he was only two years old.
In 1953, a neighbor gave O’Keefe two Chow Chow puppies for Christmas, named Bo and Chia. O’Keefe fell for the dogs, and they regularly accompanied her around town. She even had a shawl made from the their hair one spring after they shed their winter coats. O’Keefe became quite fond of the breed, and ended up owning six Chow Chows in her lifetime.
"It seems to be my mission in life to wait on a dog." - Georgia O’Keefe
Mexican painter Frida Khalo is known for her introspective self-portraits that mix fantasy with reality while exploring identity, gender, class and race in Mexican society. Her work deals with her struggles following devastating injuries she suffered after a bus accident at age 18, along with her volatile marriage to artist Diego Rivera.
Khalo owned many animals, including Bonito, the Amazon parrot who would perform tricks at the table for rewards of pats of butter. She had a fawn called Granizo, an eagle named Gertrudis Caca Blanca (Gertrude White Shit), spider monkeys that went by the names Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal, as well as parakeets, macaws, hens and sparrows. She also kept a Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dog) with an ancestry traceable back to the Aztecs (her favorite was named Mr. Xolot).
And her beloved animals became the subjects of pet portraits! The injuries Khalo obtained in the bus accident prevented her from having children, and she has described her monkeys as “surrogates” for the children she was never able to have. Her family of animals was such an important part of her life, Khalo included her pets in many of her paintings.
Picasso loved dogs. He owned many different breeds, including terriers, poodles, a boxer, dachshunds, a German shepherd, Afghan hounds, and numerous “random breeds.” While Picasso was known to “borrow” (steal) dogs from friends or associates, he was also gifted dogs to friends in order to share the joy of companionship.
His favorite was his dachshund Lump, “borrowed” from Life magazine photographer David Douglas Duncan. Lump resided at Picaso’s home in Cannes, alongside a boxer named Yan and a goat, Esmerelda. Lump became such an important part of Picasso’s life that the dog’s former owner created a book documenting their relationship, Picasso and Lump: A Dachshund’s Odyssey.
Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld developed an obsession with his cat named Choupette. Also guilty of “borrowing”, Lagerfeld appropriated the cat from a friend, fashion model Baptiste Giabiconi. Choupette has since inspired a number of Lagerfeld’s products and even has her own set of personal maids. Not only has the cat been featured on the cover of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, she also has her own Twitter and Instagram accounts, with thousands of followers.
"She's over-groomed and everything. She has several maids. She's never alone when I'm not there. Oh no no… Even if she sleeps, she doesn't want to be alone. She's like a chic lady, like a kept woman with her personal maid." – Karl Lagerfeld
The renowned American author Ernest Hemmingway was s a cat-lover who owned a collection of six-toed cats (polydactyls). It all began when a sea captain named Stanley Dexter gave Hemmingway Snow White, a six-toed kitten. (Sailors believed six-toed cats were good luck, because the extra toe helped them better catch mice and keep their balance at sea.) Today, many of Show White’s descendants still reside on the grounds of the Hemmingway Home and Museum in Key West, as well as the surrounding area.
And on a final note, this is just adorable: In the book Hemingway’s Cats: An Illustrated Biography, Hemmingway’s niece wrote that the author referred to his furry friends as “purr factories” and “love sponges.”