by Debra Rexelle
From Cat Fanciers' Almanac, June 1999
Although the nicknames for the Chartreux have changed over the years -- the Smiling Blue Cats of France, Monastery Cats, Hospital Cats, Rooftop Cats of Paris, Dog-Like Cats and even Potatoes on Toothpicks (referring to the contrast of a robust body on comparatively short, fine-boned legs) -- the breed itself has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Trace this breed's roots and you will find that the Chartreux is a very ancient, distinct breed that has been recognized since the beginning of the science of natural history, a past that can only be matched by that of the Angora cat.
M. Jean Simmonet of Paris, France, a noted historian on the Chartreux cat, traced their background in his book Le Chat des Chartreux (1980). This work, the only book on the breed, was translated into English in 1990 by Jerome Auerbach (Blaukatzen Cattery) of Livermore, CA.
The Chartreux has been written about in science and literature for hundreds of years. It is likely the Chartreux originated from Felis syrica (Cat of Syria), which was written about by natural historian Ulisse Aldrovandi in the late 1500s. In a treatise on quadrupeds, this cat is described as a robust gray cat originating from Syria; or perhaps, they were originally "Maltese Cats," those blue-gray cats brought from Syria and kept on the island of Malta.
M. Simmonet writes that the first reference to the name Chartreux cat was in the 1723 edition of the Universal Dictionary of Commerce, Natural History and Arts and Trades by Savarry des Bruslon. Bruslon states that the Chartreux was a common name for a type of cat whose fur was blue in color, and that fur traders dealt in their pelts. He also suggested that they were called Chartreux because of the monks who owned the first of the breed.
In 1756, the French naturalist Buffon listed the Chartreux as one of the four common varieties of cats in his work, Natural History. Diderot mentioned the Chartreux cat in 1748, in Les bijoux indiscret (The Indiscrete Jewels). Linnaeus, in 1789, writes of the Chartreux cat having a woolly coat of ash blue.
The French author Colette, who herself owned Chartreux, often wrote about her cats. In La Chatte (1933), she wrote of her "little bear with fat cheeks and golden eyes" and her "blue pigeon, her pearl gray devil" in referring to Saha, her Chartreux.
One famous legend of the Chartreux, although it has no supporting evidence, is an all-time favorite of many Chartreux breeders. As the legend goes, the Chartreux got its name from the religious order of the Carthusian monks (famous for their green liqueur) who, in the 17th century, brought the cats to their monastery, "Le Grande Chartreuse," high in the French Alps from the Cape of Good Hope.
Most of the references throughout history refer to the Chartreux's blue-gray color and its eyes of gold to copper. The Chartreux is described as a working breed and an excellent hunter. In addition to the romance attached to the breed's French history, people also seem to be attracted to the Chartreux by their appearance, that of a robust, wooly blue bear with a sweet, smiling expression.
Always treasured for their blue color in any shade from ash to slate, the Chartreux is perhaps the only "blue" breed where there is no preference given to the shade, only to the clarity of the coat.
Their woolly coat is like no other. The texture is so dense that it "breaks" like the wool in a sheep's coat. As this can sometimes take several years to develop, Chartreux can often look their very best at four to five years of age; and because of their sweet nature, these mature specimens make great show material.