Sunday, 2 August 2015

The 19th Century Origins of the Cat Meme

Love cat memes?

Of course you do. After all it’s why the internet was invented. But when do you think the cat meme was first invented?

It may surprise you to know that it was the Victorian’s who came up with the innovation of cute cats pics with a funny caption.

Harry Pointer

Harry Pointer is arguably the earliest master of the cat meme. Englishman Pointer was born in 1822 and an early adopter of kitten photography. He started out taking naturalistic photographs of cats, until in the 1870s he realised there was a niche to be had in pictures of kittens in ludicrous poses. He wasn’t wrong.

Pointer completed around 200 early memes, which he called is “Brighton Cats”. However, he went on to hand the baton another later photographer, Harry Whittier Frees.

Harry Whittier Frees

The term “LOLCats” was coined in 2006, but as this picture shows the first LOLcats (cute pictures of cats with a humours caption) appeared in 1914. Harry Whittier Frees specialized in taking funny photos of cats. An American born in 1873 he made a living selling his images as postcards of live animals dressed in human clothing. Posing living animals was a new idea, because previously similar photographs had been of stuffed animals.

Henriette Ronner-Knip

Born in Amsterdam in 1821, Henriette made her reputation painting cutesy pictures of animals, especially cats. She had a special studio space with a glass front so that she could watch the kittens at play without disturbing them, in order to choose the sweetest poses.
Although not a meme as such, there had a similar effect on the viewer, of making them go “Ahhh” and want to share the image with their friends.

Cornelius Raaphorst

Another person of Dutch origin Cornelius was born in 1875 and maxed out on paintings of cute kittens. Typical titles included “Kittens at Play” and "The Birdcage", the subject of which is self-explanatory.

Louis Wain

Another supremo of LOLCats was Louis Wain. His paintings of anthropomorphic cats were hugely popular. His amazing pictures adorned postcards, greetings cards, calendars and posters and were the late Victorian equivalent of Wallace and Gromit.


  1. Loved this - thanks for posting!

    1. My pleasure, any excuse to post pictures of cats!
      Thanks for visiting, Annie.

  2. Terrific article. So sad about Louis Wain, who I consider a genius. And now let me mention The Kittens Tea Party, by Walter Potter. It is so sad and so well done. But happy!

    1. Thanks, Billy.
      It was sad about Louis Wain :-( , did you read my blog post about how he may have been suffering from toxoplasmosis?
      I must look up Walter Potter. There were a few photographers who used stuffed animals, which isn't such a pleasant thought, I do hope he wasn't of that ilk.
      Thank your for visiting,
      Grace x


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