Henriette Ronner-Knip was a 19th century European painter who was known for her beautiful paintings of cats. She was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1821. Her family had 2 generations of great painters before her. Her father, Josephus Augustus Knip, was a prize-winning painter that had taken his career all over Europe.
Loosing Sight, But Gaining Vision
By the age of 5, Ronner was already beginning to show her talent as an artist by copying her father’s drawings. Her father took notice of her talent and took her under his wing as an artist by age 11. With his eye-sight beginning to fail, Ronner’s father knew that Ronner’s talents would need to be developed enough for her to take over as the family’s bread earner soon. Lessons were long and hard; They would work at the easel from sunrise to sunset with only a few short breaks.
Ronner’s father taught her to study nature and what she should look for in a subject. He also emphasized the importance of not trying to see through someone else’s eyes and the kind of sacrifice that it takes to be a successful artist. She took all of this in stride as she knew his guidance would put her on the right track.
Pawing Her Way to Success
At the tender age of 16, Ronner entered a painting of a cat in a window in an art exhibition. The painting sold, allowing her more opportunities to enter her art in exhibitions. She produced paintings very quickly. While her favorite subjects were always animals, she also painted castles, landscapes, farms, still lifes and portraits.
Eventually the subjects of Ronner’s works streamlined down to just animals. In 1845, she began painting dogs. One of her most famous works called “The Death of a Friend” was a large painting of a man mourning the loss of a dog that had been pulling a cart. Ronner’s paintings of dogs became so popular that in 1878 the Queen of Belgium hired her to paint a portrait of her 2 favorite lap dogs.
In 1850, Henriette Knip became Henriette Ronner-Knip when she married Teico Ronner. The pair would have 6 children, 2 of which would also become painters. Unfortunately, Mr. Ronner was prone to illness and Mrs. Ronner once again found herself being the family bread winner.
Captivated by Cats
A change came in Ronner’s art when a couple of neighborhood cats wandered into her home. She became curious about the creatures and studied their every move. By 1870, she was painting more cats than dogs. The cat paintings were in demand as it became more trendy to have a cat as a pet in Europe. Rather than taking the more comical, anthropomorphic view of cats in art (which was popular at the time), Ronner kept to an honest, sincere view of how she saw cats.
By the end of her career, Henriette Ronner-Knip had become renown for her paintings. She had won many dignified awards for her work including several medals, the Cross of the Order of Leopold II King of Belgium (not often given to a woman), and she became a knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands. Her clients included several members of royalty in Europe including the Princess of Whales, the King of Hanover, Emperor Wilhelm I King of Prussia, the Dutchess of Edinburgh, Don Fernando King of Portugal, and Baron Tindal of Amsterdam. Ronner passed away in 1909 in Brussels.