Susan Herbert was one of the most distinctive of contemporary cat artists, who produced consistently crafted watercolours that respond with wit and affection to the imagery of Western culture. The long traditions of painting, theatre, opera and ballet, and the newer art of cinema, are explored and refreshed in intelligent and entertaining parodies, in which cats – and other favourite animals – appear as protagonists: from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus through Puccini’s Tosca to Greta Garbo as Mata Hari. Since the mid 1990s, these delightful works have played an essential part in the Chris Beetles Gallery’s annual summer cat show. Susan Herbert was born in Hampton-in-Arden on 30 September 1945, and educated at Solihull High School. She later studied for a single term at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford (1973). She began her working life in the box offices of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (1963-68), the London Coliseum (1968-75) and the Theatre Royal, Bath (1976-78).
These positions enabled her to hold foyer exhibitions, which included theatrical portraits and a series of images using mice to tell the story of Wagner’s Ring. Such work led to the development of an anthropomorphic art that placed animals in Old Master, Shakespearean and operatic settings. By the close of the 1970s, she had become a freelance artist, with work permanently displayed at the Theatre Royal and Kings Circus Gallery, both in Bath. During the 1980s, she broadened her interests, exhibiting miniatures in the United States (1984) and producing a set of limited edition prints and cards (1989). A major exhibition of her work was held in 1990 at the Crypt Gallery, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Her international popularity was confirmed by a touring exhibition, which began in Tokyo in 1995.
Since 1990, Susan has reached an even wider public through the books that she has published with Thames & Hudson: The Cats Gallery of Art (1990); The Diary of a Victorian Cat, with a text by Stanley Baron (1991); Impressionist Cats (1992); The Cats History of Western Art, with commentaries by Genevieve McCahen, (1994); Medieval Cats (1995); Shakespeare Cats (1996); Opera Cats (1997); Pre-Raphaelite Cats (1999), The Cats Gallery of Western Art (2002, a compilation of 1990 & 1994 volumes); Movie Cats (2006), Cats Galore: A Compendium of Cultured Cats (2015).