The felines at the Streetlife Museum truly are fabulous!

Published: Tuesday 17th January 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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The Streetlife Museum down the High Street gives us a glimpse into everyday life over the last 200 years.

Hosting trams, buses, bicycles and even shops, the collection has recently acquired a common sight from the city’s alleyways: a variety of weird and wonderful cats.

However, wearing everything from bonnets to military uniforms, these moggies are a bit different to your usual stray.

Fabulous Felines showcases the work of Violet Roberts, an Edwardian postcard artist who lived right here in Hull, and later Beverley. Her charming illustrations present an array of quirky creatures that have adopted personalities from all walks of life.

The exhibition takes the form of original postcards and picture books. Alongside these amusing artefacts is a selection of information boards, describing the scenarios and in some instances their humour. With comedy, puns and even commonplace references changing so much in the last century, sometimes it does actually pay to explain the joke to the audience.

A good example is Yip-i-addy-i-ay! (above), named after a song from 1908 that was popular in musical theatre. Full of nighttime glee and camaraderie, the viewer will surely want to join in with these frolicking felines.

Then there’s The Merry Widow (below), which pays tribute to the operetta of the same name by Franz Lehar. Opening in the West End in 1907, it was an instant hit and became well known across the UK.

Violet decided to reference this show in her own way, giving one of her furry characters an eye-catching hat, umbrella and Oriental shoulder bag.

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Whilst good fun and full of glee, Violet’s art also offers insight into the changing mood of the time.

For instance, during the First World War she was commissioned to create a series of military postcards. Early versions were full of confidence and spirit, such as the one on the left below.

Towards the end of the war, the excited messages had been replaced with a quieter style, reassuring people back home that their loved ones were safe and would return shortly.

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Violet was also a performer and singer. This becomes clear when viewing the exhibition, with many of the pieces based on shows and musicals from the early twentieth century.

The Bad Girl of the Family (below) depicts a type of individual that was becoming increasingly popular throughout Edwardian culture.

The idea of a modern woman boasting financial independence whilst having a good time was very much in fashion. As a result, the character was often used in fiction, plays and comics.

Being referred to as the bad girl of the family was an unambiguous compliment, with this particular feline clearly being the most fabulous.

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With several postal deliveries each day, this was an era when you could write to a friend in the morning and they would receive it that afternoon. With so much to be said and a courier always at the ready, it’s no wonder that this style of postcard was in such high demand.

The exhibition includes many other cat characters, wearing top hats, kilts, frocks and raincoats. What they all have in common is Violet’s trademark charisma and playfulness, making it perfect for all the family to enjoy.

You can view Fabulous Felines at the Streetlife Museum in the Museums Quarter until 31 March.

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Published: Tuesday 17th January 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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