Byline: BILL MOULAND
SHE bases her work on the notion that small furry animals make better subjects for the world's great art masterpieces than human beings.
Susan Herbert is a painter who puts cats in the frame at the expense of historic figures like Michelangelo's Adam and Van Gogh's Dr Gachet.
A new series of books is testament to the fact that Miss Herbert has reached a corner of the art market that others did not think existed.
The books cost [pounds sterling]9.95 each and, if a cat lover should ask Miss Herbert to include a feline friend in a specially-commissioned portrait measuring just eight inches by six, it will cost a four-figure sum.
'I don't know why I thought of this idea in the first place,' she said yesterday. 'I just liked the idea of animals in these settings. I think animals look better than people in almost every setting.' Miss Herbert, 55, lives in Bath and produces between 40 and 50 paintings a year.
She seized on the idea as she struggled to finance her love for opera, the theatre and Gilbert and Sullivan.
'I was writing to publishers all the time,' she said. 'I had a stack of rejections several feet high. Then I sent Thames and Hudson some excerpts from my Rodent Ring Cycle, which was Wagner's Ring told with mice, rats, hamsters and the occasional gerbil. They were interested, but said it was too limited. I sent them a picture of Holbein's Henry VIII with a cat in it instead of Henry and that's what sparked if off.' Although many of the moggies in the masterpieces belong to friends, the most frequently recurring cat is Miss Herbert's own tortoiseshell and white pet, Polly, aged seven.
'As a child, I usually had cats,' she said.
'I like their independence and the fact that they always have things their own way.' 'I accept commissions if I think it is something I can do well,' she said. 'Some people ask me to put horses in pictures - need I say more? I mean, horses can't hold things, can they?'
* THE Cats History Of Western Art and Pre-Raphaelite Cats by Susan Herbert are published by Thames and Hudson at [pounds sterling]9.95.
THE BIRTH OF ADAM Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) Part of the Sistine Chapel enterprise which Pope Julius II …