Recently, in a Victorian book of cat miscellany (*) I came upon a passing reference to Gottfried Mind, as the “Cat Raphael”. This of course, whetted my appetite to find out more because anyone who can capture the character of cats is all right by me.
Gottfried Mind (1768 – 1814) was born in Switzerland, the son of a carpenter. But Mind was a sickly child with a weak constitution, and he was also autistic. At an early age Gottfried showed a talent for drawing, but his father believed the only medium worth working with was wood. He would give his son pieces of wood and indeed the young Gottfried became a talented carver. His miniature sheep and cows were popular with the locals, who displayed them on their mantelpieces. However, Gottfried’s real passion was drawing.
Gottfried was sent away to school, but lasted only a year. As explained by the head teacher, his pupil was:
“Incapable of any demanding work, but full of talent for drawing, especially God’s creatures, which he renders full of artistic caprices and with some wit.”
Gottfried returned home to become an apprentice to a printer called Sigmund Hendenberger. Gottfried’s job was to hand color the prints created by his master. The story goes that Gottfried’s talent for drawing felines was discovered by accident.
Hendenberger visited a village (to create “Peasant Clearing Wood”) showing a man chopping wood, whilst his wife sits spooning food into a child, with a cat winding round her ankles. When Gottfried saw his master’s rendition of the cat, he said: “That’s no cat.” Hendenberger took this as a challenge and suggested if his apprentice could do better, go ahead.
The sketch that Gottfried produced so enchanted Hendenberger that he copied his pupil’s work. The pair worked on together for years, but it wasn’t until after his master’s death and his widow encouraged Gottfried to produce original works to bring in more money, that Gottfried gave free rein to his talent.
His poor health meant he spent a lot of time indoors, usually accompanied by a cat. It seems he had a near photographic memory, as he only had to visit a scene and stare for a while, to return home and render it faithfully in paint. And when Gottfried wanted to relax, his party piece was to carve miniature models of cats out of chestnuts.
Sadly, Gottfried Mind suffered from an “increasing disorder in his breast” which brought about his death in 1914, at the tragically young age of 46.
(*) The Book of Cats: A Chit-Chat Chronicle of Feline Facts and Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful and Miscellaneous (1868) Charles Henry Ross.
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