I see by my day book that June 18 is the day Allegro joined our feline family as a tiny rescued kitten, so I’m featuring this painting from 2018 to celebrate him this week.
Allegro joined us in 1986, way before most of the cats I’ve loved and lived with joined my life, before I even had a good footing in rescue. I was surprised to see I didn’t have his rescue story published here because I honestly thought I’d written it up, which gives me a new story to write if I don’t find it. He was actually rescued by my niece, Jennifer, who lives in Savannah who adopted Theo and Simon and TNR/rescued a litter of kittens where she works last summer, who also rescued Moses back in those days, and who convinced me to take Allegro and his brother, 34 years ago tomorrow.
So not only has Allegro’s rescue story had to wait to be written, but his painting had to wait too. Some paintings do wait decades to be painted, and when they have their chance they press on until they are fully realized. This was one of those paintings, one that monopolized four days of my life. I am not complaining in the least.
My orange boy Allegro came to me in 1986 and left in 1996. I probably took the reference photos of Allegro napping on my piano bench in winter 1988 and intended to paint it right away, as I had painted Fawn in “Waiting for Mom” and Moses in “Sunday Morning” in 1988 from recent photos. Once I’d started painting cats, I wanted to paint cats all the time, and thought I should always have a sketch or painting in the works to keep myself learning and progressing in my skills. In fact, I know I’d planned some sort of painting of each of the cats in my life at that time, and from that concept I’ve built my own personal collection of portraits of my cats, mostly large, usually detailed and scenic, capturing a moment, including “Are You Looking At Me?”, “Peaches and Peonies” and “Sleeping Beauty”, and smaller paintings like “After Dinner Nap”, “A Rosy Glow”, “Darling Clementine” and “A Warm Bath”.
But early in 1989 I learned I had to move from my rented house and after looking for other rentals I decided my best deal was to buy a house instead, and so I picked up extra freelancing in addition to my part time job in the art store to save my down payment, shopped around and found this place, which occupied my time for over a year. Everything was packed up, including my photos which were not unpacked until years later. I began painting again, but using newer photos. And I sold my piano because this house was so small, an act I regretted even before the piano left the house.
But I never forgot this image. In 2012 when I pulled out all my photo prints and organized recent and older I found the reference photos and vowed I would paint Allegro, napping on the piano bench when I’d gotten up from playing to do something, intending to come back since my music was still out. You know how cats are. I loved him for what he’d done, and for the inspiration of that moment, and ran to get my camera. The lighting, the deep shadows that I so love to fill with colors, I loved to play the piano, and sharing that with the cat who had a musical name was so perfect I knew I had to paint it.
I named him Allegro because, as a kitten, he was. As an adult he moderated a bit, so he became Allegro Moderato. Also, while he was tall, rangy and muscular, he could be amused for hours by a speck on the wall or a short line I drew on a piece of paper in marker, and he really couldn’t figure out the first cat track toys available, so other parts of him moved a little more slowly as well. He had no idea of his size, and no concept of personal space for me or other cats, and was often soundly chastened by cats much smaller than he was. But there was never a nicer cat than Allegro.
I created a composite from the photos, and determined that I would paint this painting. Allegro is an October cat because he is orange and I lost him in October, and because of the feline imagery of the yellow fog which T.S. Eliot, a favorite poet and author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which was also adapted into the musical Cats, had written into his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
But one October after another came and went, and I’ve painted other paintings, but not Allegro. Each year I decide I’m going to paint this painting, October comes, and I run out of time and decide not to rush it. “I have a whole year to do it for next October.”
I did that in 2018 too, the year I finally painted this painting. In 2017 I ended up painting a small painting of Allegro for the September painting challenge and decided that would suffice for that year. In 2018 my September was too complicated for the painting challenge, but I decided I would spend the month on this painting. I did not. I wanted to use it for my October monthly featured artwork and desktop calendar, but told myself I’d have to choose something else, and I could do it for next year.
But something indicated to me that I wasn’t going to pass it by once again. The last days of September came and I decided, yes, I not only should do this painting, I needed to. I create so many other images and portraits but I really needed to do a painting for me, just for me to enjoy the act of creating, and enjoy having the memory, revisiting and building the image of a precious moment with one of my cats, done by my hand. I couldn’t choose another piece of artwork. I would do this painting.
So that was September 29. I might not get it done because these paintings typically take me weeks of small work periods among other things, but this one wasn’t going to happen that way. I was apparently going to put everything aside and work on this painting. I’ve never had that opportunity. I looked forward to it.
But the biggest hurdle, taking more time than the painting itself, was deciding on which image to paint. I had always remembered the vertical image, but at some point in the past I had created a horizontal image, a little more intimate with Allegro and the piano. Which one did I like better? Allegro and the piano and the light? Or the whole scene that had inspired me in the first place?
For the next three days, I kept looking at one and then the other, deciding on one and then the other, and letting it take the time it needed. October came, but I know better than to start on a painting when there is the least little bit of indecisiveness in me, because if I’m not fully committed I will remain indecisive and regret it. At one point I had the horizontal image ready to go, then changed my mind again. In the end, the image that kept coming to mind whenever I thought of painting this painting was the one you see here.
And actually painting it was very different too. My typical style of painting is to work out the entire thing at once, to possibly sketch out the scene, then start filling in with areas of color and value, or just to start blocking it in, no matter the medium. I then work my way over it in layers of detail so I keep it consistent all across the image. And I rarely work more than four hours on a painting—that seems to be about as much as my back, eyes, hands and shoulders can take, and also my creative intellect and color sense. I have to go off and recharge.
Allegro was so determined not to be left out once again that I sketched out the scene, then started at the top of the painting and worked my way down to the bottom in full detail in one sweep, putting eight hours into it the first day, four hours the second.
I began to add the figures on the sheet music after determining that I would add legible text, and thought how years ago I had thought I’d compose a little piece of music to accompany the painting called “A Soft October Night”. Maybe someday I will.
Just as I began adding the text to the music book that afternoon a storm came up and before I could close my windows it sprayed the painting with little dots of water leaving dark spots in the dry pastel, which needed to dry completely before I could go on. After an hour and the storm just about over, I brushed out the little dark dots and repaired any areas that needed to be repaired, and finally, it was done. Even that night, I couldn’t wait for daylight and a good quality photo to share it, but turned on the lights in my bedroom and put it on the bed, standing over it to photograph it. The next day I both photographed it in natural light outdoors and scanned it, and finally built my monthly calendars from the image.
I am honored
This painting was given two awards by the Cat Writers’ Association in the 2018 Communications Contest.
Certificate of Excellence in Fine Art
Kuykendall Image Award
The Kuykendall Image Award is sponsored by the CWA and “presented for the outstanding ‘image’ entry featuring cats – whether photography, illustration, or graphic art. This may be a single piece or series entry, including, but not limited to, photos/artwork published in a magazine, newspaper, newsletter, book, pamphlet, calendar, poster, greeting card, or commercial online publication.”
Since this category is so general—images can come from anywhere and appear for any reason, from an illustration to an image on social media to a painting done by choice—there are many entries. This painting with its memory of Allegro and associations with T.S. Eliot and his poetry and cat imagery, and finally painting this very real moment after 30 years, is very special to me on many levels, and it fills a special spot in my heart that it was chosen for this award.
Where to find this artwork
Purchase a print, greeting card or gift item
The original painting is still available.
I offer prints as:
- digital prints on matte-finish art paper
- giclees on art paper
- on canvas in standard sizes
- as framed prints, and custom framing is available
It’s also available as a 5 x 7 greeting card with a white envelope.
I usually have at least one gift item, like the keepsake box here. You can click that image to read more about the box, or visit Portraits of Animals and search “Allegro Moderato” to bring up everything available with this image.
You can find this art and more on Portraits of Animals.
Take a look at other featured artwork and desktop calendar posts.
Each month I feature a piece of feline artwork from the archives to the present day, discuss its history and process, and set it up as a free downloadable desktop calendar for just about every electronic device available.
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters Tuesday: Rescue Stories Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork Thursday: New Merchandise Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!