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Early History of the Chartreux

Jessie Strike-McClelland
Historian, Chartreux, USA

There are a number of legends regarding the Chartreux, none of which I address here, as there is nothing factual to account for them. Here is the history of the breed to the extent that I have been able to substantiate dates and names.

One of the first records of a gray cat resembling a Chartreux was in 1558, when Joachin de Bellay, a French poet, refers to such a cat (which has died) in terms which lead one to believe that the cat was a Chartreux, although the name was not at that time given to the breed:

EPITAPHE D'un chat
Here lies Belaud, my little gray cat,
Belaud, that was the most handsome perhaps
That nature ever made in cat's clothing.
This was Belaud, death to rats.
Belaud, to be sure his beauty was such
That he deserves to be immortal.

In 1723 the "Universal Dictionary of Commerce, Natural History and the Arts and Trade of Savvary of Brusion" was published, which contained the following:

"Finally we find several cats which tend toward bleu, these latter are commonly called Chartreux. This name was used to distinguish the blue cats. Incidentally, the furriers trade in the skin of the cats, especially those cats which were called Chartreux."

In 1727, François-Augustin-Paradis de Montcrif (1687-1770), French poet, musician, and playwright, wrote a book "The Cats" in which he speaks of a traveler who had seen slate-colored cats in North Africa, which came from Malta.

In 1747, artist Jean-Baptiste Perroneau painted a beautiful portrait of Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange, holding on her lap a gray cat which appears to be a Chartreux, the cat having a very large body, yellow eyes, and head shape of the breed. (This portrait may be seen at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA. Click here to open the portrait in another window.)

In 1748 Denis Diderot, French philosopher and poet, published a book from which the following is taken:

"Prince, she tells him, embarrssed by his reproaches, without my three beasts (pets) my Canary, my Chartreuse (female Chartreux) and Callirhoe, I am nothing."

In 1753 Brande Aldobrande, Italian scholar, describes in the 16th century a cat of ash gray color originating in Syria and writes: "Of all the variety and number of cats, the best is that which is streaked with a diversity of pale dark ash colors; it comes from Syria, the place from whence comes the name (?). Its blood is very mild, it lets itself be domesticated and is a smart hunter. Moreover, its snout (?) is round, its chest muscular, it has strong legs, it is always vigilant and makes a habit of watching over the household. It is content with little food and supports its hunger; it feeds at times on its own capture and never fills its insatiable tummy to the detriment of its owners."

In 1753 the "Grand Encyclopedia" describes "Chartreux - a sort of cat whose fur is gray ash and tends toward bleu. It's one of the skins in which the furriers trade and employ in the manufacture of furs."

In 1778 Josephus Flavius Martinet, from Holland, writes "We in Holland have also some blue cats mostly at Overijasel where they are brought to Holland to be bought and sold; their fur is gray ash, blackish brown at the base, the coat is very dense of the sort which, when one sees the gray of the tips and the brown underlaying, the mixed colors make the appearance of the cat to be blue."

Carl Linnaeus (also known as Carl von Linne or Carolus Linnaeus)(1707-1778), Swedish doctor, biologist, and Comte de Georges Louis le Clere Buffon, French naturalist and mathematician (1707-1778) also refer to the Chartreux as the name of the blue cat. Buffon gives a clear picture of the breed in that he presents plates of the cat and depicts the animal with a straight nose, with fur slightly longer than that of a domestic cat and the fur wooly in appearance, the tail carried straight up and pointed at the end. (Buffon shows the cat as the type which was originally found at Belle-Ile-sur Mere; the breed as we see today is both shorter in back and leg.)

In 1780 the "Reasoned and Universal Dictionary of Natural History", published in Switzerland, and containing the history of animals, vegetables, and minerals of Vailmont de Bomare contains the following: "In Persian one sees these (cats) whose color is that of our Chartreux."

In 1806 Professor (Dr) Beauregard, in his book "Our Animals", writes "after death the coat is used in different ways. That of the Chartreux is cut and dyed and sold as Otter fur."

In 1817, in the "Dictionary of Natural Sciences" we read "The Chartreux cat, whose fur is very fine and generally a beautiful uniform gray, the lips and the bottom of the feet are black."

In his 1867 work "The Book of the Cat", Charles Ross writes "Blue is not a common color, these species are styled Chartreux cats and are esteemed rarities. Merit of being extremely gentle, pure blue cats were very rare and greatly prized."

In 1877 Heath's "French-English Dictionary" defines the Chartreux cat as a "cat with bluish-gray color."

In 1880, Cassell's "New French-English Dictionary" lists the "Chartreux cat of bluish gray color."

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