Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post is devoted to the heir to the Louis Wain wacky anthropomorphic cat throne, Eugen Hartung. Hartung is sort of the Otto Messmer of cat postcards. Hartung is a Swiss artist (1897-1973) whose career blossomed in the United States after WWII somehow became know by his publisher’s name, Alfred Mainzer. Was it post-war anti-German sentiment? Was it conscious like Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, or did it happen of it’s own accord? For whatever reason, Mainzer’s name is the one prominent on the back of these cards it is the name I knew them by until I started digging a bit for a blog awhile back. I wrote about one of these cards I purchased back in 2019 and recounted some of this history. (That post can be found here.)
Much to my surprise, two handfuls of these cards found their way to me back in December. After retrieving a mysterious package that had been left for you in the parlance of our doorman’s communications, I discovered that a friend who lives on the other end of 86th Street (and who I haven’t seen in person given our pandemic times) had dropped off a packet of these cards for me. Evidently she had found them years ago when cleaning out her parent’s house and put them aside for me. In a recent apartment renovation she discovered them again and brought them over. When I emailed my thanks she said that she remembered thinking when she found them that I was the right home for them and she was glad she had finally united them with me.
Oddly enough though within the month, another handful of these cards showed up in a Christmas card for Kim. I want to say it was either Rick Altergott or Evan Dent who sent them along. I apologize for this slip of mind and not remembering better. I was struck by how odd it was that two bunches of these cards should find their way to me at the same time. If you’re reading please raise your hand so I can correct this and thank you properly!
These cards were still widely available when I was a little kid and I always liked them – purchasing them when I could although those particular ones are long disappeared. They have a texture to the paper, that I remember with tactile memory, and the deckle edge lives in memory too, somehow rooted in the 1960’s in my mind. It turns out that, on the other side of the country, a young adult Kim Deitch was purchasing them in Berkeley. All great minds think alike it seems. Little did either of us know that decades later Deitch Studio and Pam’s Pictorama would unite to be the blissful cat laden bower that it is today.
I have long wondered why, although extremely popular, Hartung’s cat cards have never risen to the level of Louis Wain. (I have written several times about the cat artist genius and some of those posts can be found here, here and here just for starters.) I think in part, although plenty chaotic and wacky, they lack the underlying maniacal frenzy of the Wain universe. They are beautifully choreographed compositions and there is a prettiness that Wain’s drawings don’t have. As Louis Wain himself began to descend into mental illness, the drawings had an increasing edge to them – until of course they become almost entirely abstract. At least this is my theory. Even at their most frenzied they are a bit polite and well bred in a way that Wain isn’t.
I give you a selection of a two of my favorites out of the group, more to come. This Western scene above – a cat cowboy evidently breaking a bucking bronco goat – was a evidently a much beloved one. It has multiple push pin holes in the top edge where someone kept it on view. (None of these cards in either bunch were ever mailed.) A girl cat is using a home movie camera (circa the 1950’s or ’60’s) to film the action and she’s right in the midst of it, tail politely poking out beneath a short skirt. In the top right, one cowboy pushes another off his perch on the rails and a Siamese cat is amongst them for diversity. I once owned an Annie Oakley jacket like the one worn by the fleeing fellow in the lower right – was my favorite jacket for years and I wore it until it fell to pieces.
The next one is this family scene of kitty chaos. I think it is very funny that these cats are dog owners and it is the dogs that are causing today’s troubles. The cats are exceedingly genteel and the cafe scene is decidedly European. The spilled drinks appear to be hot chocolate (the children were drinking it) and the waiter’s spilling tray is full of petit fours. (The one young fellow, strategically under the tray, is preparing to snatch them up as they fall.)
Comically, two birds watch the action from the lower right – none of these well-bred felines pays them any mind. The cats are civilized and all the others are playing their animal roles. This card is heavily faded along the very top edge, but only a persnickety collector would have issue with this. It too has many pin prick holes, top and bottom, from being on view somewhere.
I end today by saying I would expect that at least a few more of these will find their way to the pages of Pictorama so cat card lovers stay tuned.