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Monday, October 28, 2019

Mouse Art

Painting Dinner, Lucia Heffernan
As I was editing the photos for this post, my wife passed by and asked, "Is that the best you can come up with to write on?" My wife hates mice. Most women do. It's not that she would hop up on a chair screaming "EEEEEKKK" as usually depicted in so many stereotypic cartoons. It's just the holes they make in food packaging in the pantry and the nibbling which comes as a result. I tried to explain that she should not be so upset, they are, after all, very small creatures and not likely to eat very much. She was notamused. Despite the painting above titled, Painting Dinner, by Lucia Heffernan, I'm not writing about mice who paint. However, I was surprised to realize the number of artists who paint mice. And, like legions of others who specialize in depicting animal art which I've covered, the range of styles, media, and techniques pretty much runs the gamut from Photorealism to Abstract Expressionism. Incidentally, I also noticed, counterintuitively, that female artists, (despite the stereotype) tend to paint mice more often than their male counterparts. I wonder how much they pay their models?
The Three Blind Mice (upper image) as originally depicted by Charles Folkard,
have come a long way as seen by the contemporary image just above.
In 1609, the famous children’s rhyme “Three Blind Mice” was published in London. The mice have since been featured in multiple cinematic movies and television shows throughout the year, one of the most famous being Shrek. The origin of the nursery rhyme has a somewhat disturbing story behind it. The three blind mice were three Protestant loyalists who were accused of plotting against Queen Mary I. The farmer’s wife refers to the queen who, along with her husband, King Philip of Spain, owned several large estates. Mice were no doubt a recurring problem. The three men were eventually burned at the stake.
Gypsy Mice, David Galchutt
There seems to be no written history of "mouse art" (not surprising, I guess). From "Three Blind Mice," on it's hard to say how much "mouse art" (if any) was created. In most of the images I could find from later centuries, the mice were forced to shared the spotlight with playful cats or kittens. California illustrator, David Galchutt's Gypsy Mice (above), though seeming to be from the 19th-century was actually painted quite recently. It wasn't until 1904 that British writer, Beatrix Potter once more popularized mice as a fitting subject for artists. That was the year in which her children's storybook The Tale Of Two Bad Mice, was published in England. The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside (below) underscores her talent as an illustrator as well as being a writer, natural scientist, and conservationist. From that point on, mice have become a staple of children's literature and fine art.
The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside, 1905, Beatrix Potter 
There were probably other notable mice during the intervening years, but in 1928 Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks first brought a lovable little mouse they called Mortimer to the silver screen in Steamboat Willie (bottom). It was one of the first animated cartoon to feature a soundtrack. Mortimer was an anthropomorphic mouse who typically wore red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves, (later renamed Mickey Mouse). Mickey made his movie debut in a Disney short cartoon titled Plane Crazy, only later hitting his stride as Steamboat Willie. Since then, Mickey has gone on to star in over 130 films, including The Band Concert (1935), Brave Little Tailor (1938), and Fantasia in 1940. Mickey appeared primarily in short films, but also occasionally in feature-length films. Ten of Mickey's cartoons have been nominated for the Academy Awards as Best Animated Short Film, one of which, Lend a Paw, won the award in 1942. In 1978, Mickey became the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The most successful mouse of all time.
Mickey Mouse was not the only cute little rodent to "make it" as a movie star. After 1942, Paul Terry's Super Mouse made his film debut in a cartoon short titled The Mouse of Tomorrow. Like Mickey and hundreds of other Hollywood movie stars, once he became famous he changed his name. Super Mouse became Mighty Mouse. The character was conceived originally by Paul Terry. Created as a parody of Superman, he was renamed Mighty Mouse for The Wreck of the Hesperus (1944), after Paul Terry learned that another character named "Super Mouse" was to be published by Standard Comics. Mighty Mouse subsequently starred in 80 theatrical films between 1942 and 1961. These films appeared on American television from 1955 through 1967, every Saturday morning on the CBS television network. The character was twice revived, by Filmation Studios in 1979 and in 1987 by animation director Ralph Bakshi, who had worked at the Terrytoons studio during his early career. Mighty Mouse's superpowers included flight, super strength, and invulnerability. In some films he used X-ray vision and psychokinesis. He was also able to turn back time in The Johnstown Flood. Other cartoons showed him leaving a red contrail during flight that he manipulated like a band of solid, flexible matter, as in Krakatoa for example .
Paul Terry's Mighty Mouse. After 1945, dialog in many of his films
was sung by opera singers.
It's hard to say precisely how much Beatrix Potter, Walt Disney, and Paul Terry have had to do with the popularity of mice as subjects for other artists' creative efforts. About the time white mice became test creatures in scientific laboratories, they also became docile house pets, even for small children, and were therefore readily available as photographic models which then led to paintings such as the aptly named White Mouse (below) from Lydia's Wildlife Studio.
White Mouse, Lydia's Wildlife
At the same time, other artists have chosen the common field mouse as seen in Snack From the Garden, (below) by Jai Johnson.
Snack From the Garden, Jai Johnson
Other mouse painters have found the shy little creatures as an outlet for their more whimsical tendencies as seen in Soouris No. 15, (below) by Marina Dieul.
Soouris No. 15, Marina Dieul
Copyright, Jim Lane
This is the point at which I usually display one of my own mouse paintings. That's good since I have only one example, which I called Tom and Jerry (inspired yet another cartoon). It dates from my college days back in 1970.
Tom and Jerry, 1970,
Jim Lane

Living dangerously,
A Cat Peeping Through a Fence,
1966, Cornelis Saftleve
Mickey (Mortimer) Mouse makes his film debut as Steamboat Willie (1928)

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