Progressive and nonconformist Amsterdam is famous for a lot of things: beautiful historic buildings, cute streets separated by endless canals, the seedy red light district and, of course, its hazy ‘coffeeshops’ – cannabis cafes better known for selling bud than brewing beans. The city is also well-known for its museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank house and museum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandt House Museum and the NEMO Science Museum.
What I like so much about Amsterdam though, is the lesser-known, quirky little museums, that celebrate the engagingly odd obsessions of their curators. When you think of the Dutch city, the last thing that probably springs to mind is “cats”. But Amsterdam is home to Kattenkabinet, a whole museum dedicated to the furry felines. So obviously, being the crazy cat lady I am, when I visited Amsterdam back at the end of 2015, I had to pay it a visit (what’s travelling without any cats?). And what better day to tell you about my visit, than International Cat Day…
Founded in 1990 by wealthy Dutchman William Meijer, the museum began life as a sort of memorial, commemorating Meijer’s cat, JP Morgan (named after American financier and philanthropist, John Pierpont Morgan). Now, nearly 30 years after its establishment, this tiny and unique museum in Amsterdam is entirely devoted to cats, housing only cat-related artwork – including an original Picasso painting of a cat.
Kattenkabinet is open from 10am to 5pm on weekdays, and midday to 5pm on weekends.
What’s inside the Kattenkabinet?
As you can imagine, cat stuff. Lots and lots of cat stuff. But it’s not at all tacky or childish, or even that ‘crazy cat lady’-like.
The museum specialises in art representing cats, and there are paintings everywhere; I’d never seen so many cat things in one room. The paintings are masterpieces, carefully chosen and arranged beautifully. The collection at the Kattenkabinet offers insight into the role of the cat in art and in culture through the centuries. These works range from advertisements for household products, to fine porcelain figures.
As well as the aforementioned work by Picasso, there are pieces by Rembrandt, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, Henriette Ronner Knip, Toulouse-Lautrec and more. And many of the works are from the Meijer family’s personal collection, which gives the Kattenkabinet a pleasingly non-commercial feeling. There’s even a unique dollar bill that was created especially for JP Morgan (the cat) on his 15th birthday – a single edition of a dollar bill was printed and adapted so that Washington’s portrait looked like the feisty feline, and instead of “In God we trust”, it reads “We trust no dogs”.
Most interesting, perhaps, is a display of works from Tsuguharu Foujita, a now-unheralded Japanese painter who enjoyed great commercial success while living in Paris in the 1920s. A close friend of Picasso and Matisse, Foujita was a rather eccentric fellow with the physical appearance to match it: Egyptian statue haircut, Hitler moustache, wrist tattoos, often dressed in long tunics… He was most known for his cat and women portraits, some of which can be found at Kattenkabinet.
But it’s not just posters and paintings; there are contemporary works as well. As you walk up the winding staircase to the second floor, you’ll find yourself in a huge Baroque-style room finished opulently in red and gold. In one corner, I found an authentic costume from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats.
And perched on top of Neoclassical sideboards are more cat things, in a variety of mediums. Carvings, sculptures and statues, even precious metal ornaments, all depicting different cat breeds in many colours and sizes. I couldn’t see any that looked my two kits (was three, but Maybelle died recently – more on that in a post coming soon), though Tilly often pulls a face like the cat in the third photo down when she smells something she doesn’t like.
When you visit, be sure to look for a massive oil painting that appears to show a wizard casting spells over a giant ghostly cat – it’s pretty impressive. Plus, I love this super cute pinball machine:
There’s definitely something comical about this odd little museum; an aura of humour not only in the museum’s theme, but also in the way the museum has been presented to visitors. Sculptures, paintings, posters and books about the felines are exhibited in a very serious, professional way – almost too serious not to provoke a smile on a visitors face. My friend and I certainly wandered around the museum smiling, giggling quietly at the absurdity of some of the artifacts on display.
So, if you’re weary of visiting numerous austere exhibits on art and history, surrounded by tourists and selfie sticks, the Kattenkabinet may bring you a nice change. Its theme may seem a bit of a joke, but the art work is pretty remarkable, and the way its so grandly presented is amusing; the Kattenkabinet is certainly unique, and a place I’d definitely recommend.
Oh, and if you’re a film buffs, you may recognise the museum as a filming location for Ocean’s Twelve.
Where is Kattenkabinet in Amsterdam?
The museum is located in the beautiful old patrician house on Herengracht in Amsterdam, in an area of town where today the banks and top attorneys have their offices (here are directions to Kattenkabinet).
As well as all the cat artifacts and art, the building the Kattenkabinet is situated in could be a museum in its own right. It was built in 1667 for brothers Willem and Adriaen van Loon of a wealthy merchant family, as one of two identical houses standing opposite each other at Herengracht 497 and 498. After drawing lots, it was decided that Willem would get 497 (the house that is now the museum) and Adriaen 499. The house remained in the hands of the family until 1725. What then followed was an impressive list of inhabitants; among the famous people who have stayed in the house are mayor of Amsterdam Jan Calkoen, and the American president John Adams, who stayed at the house when visiting Dutch Politician Engelbert van Berckel.
Until 1837 the building held onto its original 17th Century look. Then, as with many other canal houses, the stairway was removed and the entrance moved to the ground floor. Throughout its rich history the house has been rebuilt and redecorated several times, to be finally brought back to its full splendor by its present owner. Most of the interior design dates from the 19th Century, including much of the ornate furniture and soft furnishings.
Meijer, the owner of the museum resides upstairs – and considering he’s the biggest cat man in the land, is a fairly normal-looking bloke if you bump into him. Visitors to the museum can explore the impressive, classically-furnished piano nobile floor, which has several large rooms. The Ball Room, with its wall appliques and ceiling paintings of the City Virgin, dates from around 1750-1770; the Music Room, with beautiful ceiling paintings, from 1870; the Mechelen Room from 1886, still in its preserved, original state; and a library.
Don’t worry if you can’t make it to Amsterdam (or if you’ve got a cat allergy), you can still see all the feline memorabilia in an online virtual tour.
How much is entry to Kattenkabinet?
I’ll be honest, the admission is a little pricey for a museum that can be toured in less than two hours. But then again, if you’re as big a fan of cats as I am, then there’s no limit to what you’d pay to see such a large collection of memorabilia. And the experience of walking through this historic canal house on Herengracht (one of the most beautiful canals in Amsterdam), makes it wort
Plus, to quote the late, great John Pierpont Morgan himself, “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.”
Are there any cats at the Kattenkabinet in Amsterdam?
It’s important to note that the cat museum in Amsterdam is not a cat cafe – unfortunately you can’t sit around cuddling kitties while taking hundreds of photos for Instagram. That said, five friendly, well-socialised cats do live in the building. Much like any other cat I’ve ever come across, they do what they want and they sleep where they want (even on the historic furniture).
If you’re like me and love weird museums and collections of curiosities (how can anyone forget Iceland’s infamous Necropants in the Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft?), the Kattenkabinet is just one of many places you should visit in Amsterdam. Bypass all the bigger, touristy museums, because the city boasts a clutch of smaller, more eccentric museums, which house anything from drugs to deformities.
Be sure to check out the Torture Museum, the Sex Museum, the Hemp Museum, the Funeral Museum, the Cheese Museum and my personal favourite, Museum Vrolik, where you’ll find an unnerving collection of human malformations (many pickled in jars), collected by 18th Century scientist Gerardus Vrolik. Enjoy.