Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ronald Searle: Cats for James Mason's Family

Some years ago a watercolor painted by cartoonist Ronald Searle of James Mason's cat and presented to his family showed up on eBay for the asking price, if memory serves, of $6,000. There was no bidding at this level and the price was not lowered in response, so I don't believe it ever sold. In the 1950's Searle was not yet the cat specialist he was to become, but the Masons were very much the quintessential cat fanciers. Indeed, they wrote and James illustrated a book about cats, and it is intriguing to speculate what influence they might have had on the eventual development of Searle's Cats and later work dating from the 1960's and onward.

Inscribed "For Pam, James and Porty
with love from Kaye and Ronald. May 1953"

Then, for Christmas 1956, James and Pamela Mason received a copy of Ronald Searle's latest book, Merry England, Etc., personally inscribed to the Masons by Ronald on behalf of himself and his wife Kaye Webb. The inscription includes a drawing of a supremely spoiled cat.
Inscribed "For James and Pam
with love from Kaye and Ronald
Christmas 1956.
—a sort of reminder of this
side of the water..."
in Ronald Searle. Merry England, Etc. London: Perpeptua, 1956.

Photo courtesy of  David from Manhattan
This book sold for $511 on eBay in January of 2008.

Few actors are more riveting than James Mason, so please forgive the suggestion that his cat illustrations are somewhat less compelling than his acting. Still, they're not bad for amateur work and The Cats in Our Lives is meant to be a highly personal reflection on cats, so he gets a pass. His reaction to Searle's work we can only imagine, but we know the watercolor was framed and the book remained in his library for more than half a century.
Pamela Kellino and James Mason, The Cats in Our Lives, Lives. New York: Current Books, Inc., 1949
Illustrated by James Mason

Pamela Kellino and James Mason, The Cats in Our Lives. New York: Current Books, Inc., 1949
Illustrated by James Mason

Pamela Kellino and James Mason, The Cats in Our Lives. New York: Current Books, Inc., 1949
Back cover photo

Note:  It should go without saying that I'd love to hear from anyone else with drawings of cats made by Ronald Searle for James Mason's family. I would also be interested in cats made by Searle for anyone not in James Mason's family, or indeed, to keep it simple, for anything on any subject drawn by Searle for anyone in or not in James Mason's family. That about covers it.

Once again, I am indebted to David from Manhattan for opening up not only his library but also his eBay archive to us. Thanks, David!

Attempted Bloggery's quick links:

Ronald Searle

Signed Books with Original Drawings




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