Thursday, June 1, 2017


Kiwis  let  cats  out  of  the  bag

A North Queensland researcher's  highly illustrated  , six  page article  on David Henry Souter (1862-1935) , renowned  for   drawings   which   often  included   slinky cats, is the   cover  story  in  the  above  New Zealand   postcard  magazine .

A black and white  artist and writer, Souter was   born  in Aberdeen , Scotland , where, aged 12 , he  was  apprenticed to  a  house painter and  signwriter . He studied at the  South Kensington Art School , London  , and  was on  the staff of a  magazine  called Bon  Accord .

Off  to Natal, South Africa ,   he went  in 1871 , where  he  did drawings,   occasional   reporting ,  started a newspaper  (which failed ) , married  Jessie Swanson , set  sail  for  Melbourne   and  ended up  in Sydney .

 On the staff of the  Sydney Bulletin   he   became  popular   throughout   the nation for his  felines, in the art nouveau style,  some of  them  with  curvaceous  women .  It was claimed his famous  Souter  cats resulted    from  him  cleaning up  an  ink  blob on a drawing , turning  it  into  a   cat .  Influential in  artistic circles , he  started a Brush Club  for young artists under the age of  26, their  work appraised by  senior artists. From  1904-1911 he was art editor of  Art and Architecture .  
During  World War One  he was one of the many  prominent  artists  who contributed  to Dame Nellie  Melba's   fund  raising  book  in aid  of  the  Belgians, the  full  plate drawing  of Souter  with   cats , above , one  of  the  features.  Melba explained  that  although she was Australian ,  as  an  artist , she  had  been born  in Belgium , her  first  appearance in an opera  had  been   at Brussels where she received  a  rousing reception from the  warm-hearted  Belgians.  

The article  says  Souter's  postcards covered  many subjects  , including  marital  strife,  vacuum cleaners   .  An Australian Native Bare ( Bear ) , was  one  of a few   Australian  postcards   subjected  to  censorship . It  and   another , A Bally Dancer,  were   the subject of a  New Zealand  court case   in  which a  shopkeeper was  prosecuted    for  selling  indecent  cards , under the  Offensive Publications  Act 1892, deemed to be  clearly libidinous  and calculated to  have a pernicious influence , especially  on  the minds  of  boys  and  girls .    
The  above   WWl  postcard  depicting   an  Aussie Digger  cat in a slouch hat attacking  a  German  sausage  dog  was   popular at the time  .  The  article in  the  New Zealand magazine  includes a 1907   photograph of  Souter  sitting with a  group of  people ,  one a woman in a large hat ,  on large  rugs spread out on the floor  ,  at  the Society of  Artists' Selection  Committee , saying  cheers  over  a  few  bottles , artwork  hanging  in  the  background .      

Some of his cat studies were used  in Bush Babs (1933), a collection of nonsense rhymes he wrote for his children and later illustrated for publication. His cats were featured  on  Royal Doulton chinaware. The  Australian Dictionary of  Biography says that  Souter was among the  first   to  draw  Australian posters  and , with Norman Lindsay , to design bookplates   It  goes on to   say in September 1907 Souter's operetta, The Grey Kimona (1902), was staged in Adelaide by Clyde Meynell and John Gunn. Involved with Alfred Hill's Sydney Repertory Theatre Society, Souter produced two plays in 1914 and wrote librettos for light operas including Hill's Rajah of Shivapore.
 A selection of his full-page war cartoons for the Stock Journal were reprinted in 1915. Not least of his many triumphs were two comic strips, 'Sharkbait Sam' and 'Weary Willie and the Count de Main', drawn for the Sydney Sunday Sun in 1921: frame for frame, their inventiveness and composition were remarkable. By 1928  Souter  was  literary editor of Country Life...