Untamed Nature

A Cultural History of the Modern Dutch cat





cats, class, cultural history, the Netherlands, avantgarde artists, human–animal relations, ideas about nature


The cat is now one of the most popular pets in the Netherlands, but it was once much maligned. The development of the European cat as a pet in general followed a trajectory from outcast with wealthy ladies as its sole ally, via idiosyncratic nobles and romantics, to the beloved and subversive muse of artists and creatives. The history of the French, English, and American cats has received attention in the past, but that of the Dutch cat has not. This latter history took a somewhat different turn, as is shown in this article. In the Netherlands the cat was adopted in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by the bourgeois and urban elite as well as by socialists, feminists, and avantgarde artists. The class-adjacent cultural tug of war that ensued about the cat was eventually won by the latter groups. These counter-cultural movements saw the cat as emblematic of their cultural position as creatives and people at the edge of society, linking the recalcitrant and enigmatic character of cats to their own idiosyncrasies. This association was to persist in the Netherlands and is mirrored today in the mainly left-wing political orientation of the Dutch cat-owner.


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Author Biographies

Hanneke Ronnes, University of Amsterdam

Hanneke Ronnes studied history, anthropology, and archaeology in Amsterdam and Dublin. She now works as an associate professor at the Cultural Studies department of the University of Amsterdam and is also an endowed professor lecturing at Groningen University on Art History and Landscape History. Her research has included the political and cultural history of the country house, the present-day demolition of historical architecture, and the history of cats. Accordingly, she owns two veteran cats, who prefer being fed to hearing about their feline ancestry.

Harry Reddick, Amsterdam University of the Arts

Harry Reddick is a researcher based between the University of Amsterdam, where he earned a master’s degree in Heritage and Memory Studies, and the Amsterdam University of the Arts. He is currently researching the heritage of industrial spaces as part of the Horizon-funded CENTRINNO project. He also produces sound art as part of radio-archivist/abstract storytelling duo Self and Other on NTS Radio, and works as a programmer for Echobox Radio in Amsterdam. He has a cute cat named Fiona.

Henriëtte Ronner-Knip, “The Globetrotters” (1883). Wikimedia Commons




How to Cite

Ronnes, Hanneke, and Harry Reddick. 2023. “Untamed Nature: A Cultural History of the Modern Dutch Cat”. Humanimalia 14 (1):315–346. https://doi.org/10.52537/humanimalia.13534.