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Cats
Named Sam

These prints by Andy Warhol were made by the artist early on in his career, while he was still a freelance commercial and children’s book illustrator living with his mother. Inspired by his mother’s 25 cats, who all shared the same name, Warhol created a children’s book which contained (confusingly) 16 lithographs of cats, accompanied by calligraphy by his mother, and completed in colour by hand. The book itself is extremely rare but the individual prints are an enduring testimony to Warhol’s desire to experiment with bold, block colour from the offset of his long career.

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Meaning & Analysis

Aside from an obsession with celebrity and consumer culture, Warhol dedicated a large body of work to depicting cats, as seen in this series. Before making it as an artist Warhol worked as a freelance commercial and children’s book illustrator. He lived in an apartment on East 57th Street with his mother Julia Warhola and 25 cats who all shared the same name. In 1954 he published a children's book called 25 Cats Name (sic) Sam and One Blue Pussy for which he produced 16 – not 25 despite what the title suggests – lithographs accompanied by his mother’s exquisite calligraphy. The original book is extremely rare but the prints have survived and are each unique, having been hand coloured by Warhol or his friends. These are some of the earliest works by Warhol on the market today and they offer a rare insight into his playful outlook and talent for colour.

The cats in the series vary from fuchsia pink – Sam 51– to bright yellow – the most famous feline from the series, Sam 58 – to elegant brick red – Sam 65 – to the more traditional tabby of Sam 54, startlingly contrasted by the One Blue Pussy of the title, known here as Sam 68. With this rainbow menagerie Warhol appears to be testing the possibilities of combining the simple and elegant lines of his sketches with the bright blocks of colour that could be added after the process of making the lithograph. With works such as Sam 66 we can see how the colour is often laid over the lines to create an offset effect. Warhol would exploit this technique further when he turned his hand to screen printing.

10 Facts About Andy Warhol's Cats Named Sam

Cats Named Sam IV 58 by Andy Warhol

Cats Named Sam IV 58 © Andy Warhol 1954

1. Warhol and his mother owned 25 cats, all named Sam except for one.

Before Warhol had reached superstar status in the art world, he lived with his mother, Julia, in New York throughout the 1950s. In their apartment on East 57th Street in Manhattan, Warhol and his mother owned a lonely cat named Hester. To combat her loneliness, Warhol began to grow his cat colony, eventually owning 25 cats all named 'Sam'.

Cats Named Sam IV 68 by Andy Warhol

Cats Named Sam IV 68 © Andy Warhol 1954

2. The series was made to accompany a children's book Warhol published.

In 1954, Warhol published these prints in a children's book named 25 Cats Name (sic) Sam and One Blue Pussy. Despite the title of the book, Warhol only actually made 16 lithographs of his cats, but clearly studied each of them with an intimate scrutiny.

You Can Lead A Shoe To Water But You Can’t Make It Drink by Andy Warhol

You Can Lead A Shoe To Water But You Can’t Make It Drink © Andy Warhol 1950

3. The series recalls the commercial prints made in Warhol's early career.

Much like his earlier print series, like La Recherche Du Shoe Perdu, Cats Named Sam reveals Warhol's printing style when he was working as a commercial illustrator. Characterised by graphic lines and bold colours, the prints in this series are an early instance of Warhol's application of a commercial aesthetic on a personalised subject.

Cats Named Sam IV 67 by Andy Warhol

Cats Named Sam IV 67 © Andy Warhol 1954