All together now, to the strains of Hotel California:
“Welcome to the Katten Kabinet. Such a lovely place for cats (such a lovely place).
“They livin’ it up at the Katten Kabinet. What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise), bring your alibis.
“Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice. And the Cheshire said, ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.’
“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door, I had to find the passage back to the place where I was before.
“ Relax,’ said the night man. ‘You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.’”
Yes, welcome to the cat museum. If you’re a cat lover, you may never want to leave.
First, the broad strokes. Amsterdam is rightly renowned throughout the world for its museums, whether it’s the Rijksmuseum or the Hermitage, the Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House.
Anyone looking for the quirky, offbeat and downright weird is unlikely to bedisappointed, either, whether it’s a side trip to the House of Bols (Bols liqueurs, EST 1575 — check out the rainbow-hued “Hall of Taste”) — or a detour to the increasingly famous, if hard-to-find cat-themed museum, the Katten Kabinet.
The museum — a remodeled heritage home off the Herengracht canal — is full of posters, handbills, oil paintings, sculptures, tapestries, wall hangings and other forms of art depicting nothing but . . . cats.
Certified 20th-century eccentric and financier philanthropist Bob Meijer founded the museum in 1990, in commemoration of the legendary ginger cat John Pierpont Morgan (1966-1983), aka J.P. Morgan, often described as Meijer’s “stubborn, headstrong companion.” Wherever Meijer went, it is said, J.P. Morgan was there to tell him he was going the wrong way.
When J.P. Morgan passed in 1983 — the forensic examiner at the time attributed it to old age, but rumours persist that J.P. Morgan simply became fed up with his owner and opted for the easy out — Meijer sought to immortalize him with an art gallery dedicated to cats and nothing but cats. Art snobs can have their Van Gogh’s and Rembrandt’s; Meijer was determined to pay homage to the likes of Stubbs, the cat mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska (pop. 900, as of the 2012 census), and Simon, the cat appointed a war hero after serving aboard HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, a 101-day siege that trapped the navy frigate on the Yangtze River during the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Then there’s Sockamillion, the cat with 1.4 million followers on Twitter (@sockington), and Créme Puff, the oldest cat known to humanity, who reportedly passed away on Aug. 6, 2005, at the age of 38, according to his owner, Jake Perry, of Austin, Texas.
An advertising poster from 1911 for Chettalín shoe polish is just one of Katten Kabinet’s guaranteed conversation starters, partly because of its historical significance and partly because it’s, well, weird, like much of what else can be found in the Kabinet.
So wirkt Schuhputz. Kitt-eh! Kitt-eh! Kitt-eh!
“The tree of revenge does not carry fruit,” goes an old Dutch proverb, but then cats don’t care much for fruit. They’re meat eaters, all the way.
Affectionate carnivores, though, when they want to be.
Among Katten Kabinet’s numerous charms is a wall devoted to Dick Whittington’s Cat, named after the folklore surrounding real-life 14th-century English merchant Richard Whittington, who would later go on to serve as Lord Mayor of London.
Legend has it — and, really, how can these things ever be proved to historians’ complete satisfaction? — that Whittington supposedly escaped a poverty-stricken childhood by living off the avails of his rat-catching cat. A cat with a reputation for murdering rats at will would have been a prized commodity in 14th-century London.
Regardless of whether the story holds water or not — and who would begrudge humanity a lively tale on a dark and rainy night? — Dick Whittington’s cat certainly fits in at the Katten Kabinet.
Besides, no other cat immortalized at the Kabinet can lay claim to being the subject of their very own puppet show, as first performed at Covent Garden in 1711, as recorded at the time in the Spectator:
"At Punch's Theatre in the Little Piazza, Covent-Garden, this present Evening will be performed an Entertainment, called, The History of Sir Richard Whittington, shewing his Rise from a Scullion to be Lord-Mayor of London, with the Comical Humours of Old Madge, the jolly Chamber-maid, and the Representation of the Sea, and the Court of Great Britain, concluding with the Court of Aldermen, and Whittington Lord-Mayor, honoured with the Presence of K. Hen. VIII. and his Queen Anna Bullen, with other diverting Decorations proper to the Play, beginning at 6 o' clock."
Like cats themselves, the Katten Kabinet is small and not that easy to find. It’s tucked away in a canal house on Amsterdam’s Groudon Bocht — Golden Bend — a section of the Herengracht canal that features some of the city’s grandest and oldest houses. The official address is no. 497, 1017 BT Amsterdam, but even frequent visitors say they could easily miss it if they didn’t know where to look. Only the smallest of signs provides a clue.
This part of Amsterdam may have been established in the early 1700s, but the Katten Kabinet comes with a very 21st-century signature: its very own website, complete with gallery images, a set of directions on how to find it, and that mainstay of 21st-century commerce, an online shop.
TripAdvisor reviews are mixed, ranging from “Terrible” (one star out of five), “Not worth the time or money,” (also one star) and, “Should be called the Krappen Kabinet,” to, at the other end of thespectrum, “Our favourite museum in Amsterdam!” (five stars out of five), “Purrfectly enjoyable,” (also five for five), “This place is the cat’s pyjamas!” and, perhaps most honest of all: “If cats and art are your thing, this is great. If not, I imagine this could be your own personal nightmare.”
There you have it, then. As one final customer review on TripAdvisor warns, “Only go if you love cats.”
Some truths are still self-evident, you see, even in 2017.
Rob Cerneus gaat voor Uit de Kunst ter gelegenheid van Dierendag naar het Kattenkabinet in Amsterdam. Yes, it’s true!
Dick Whittington, ladies and gentlemen!
And finally, a visitor POV video tour.