In Homage to Ernest Hemingway by Michael Docherty, it is obvious that Hemingway not only found ways to inspire his own writing but to inspire those around him for decades. In Docherty’s painting, there is an eclectic mix that showcases just how eccentric Hemingway truly was. Colourful and ever-changing, is how Hemingway saw his life and those around him.
Sitting on the grounds of the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, gazing at the lush scenery, sipping on coffee I find myself sitting next to my new friend, Fred Astaire, one of Hemingway’s many polydactyl cats. While admiring the beautiful and awe-inspiring home that once inspired the great Ernest Hemingway, I can’t help but be filled with creativity surrounded by the beautiful colours, bustling side street and tropical breeze whistling through the palms.
Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. He wrote an astonishing 83 poems, 24 short stories, 20 books and many manuscripts that were never actually published. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. A man of many talents, he spent his days travelling the world. He hunted for big game in Africa, fished in the Caribbean, even engaged in bullfighting in Spain, all while falling in love with the women of the world. Hemingway was married four times and was a father to three boys.
So what did inspire one of the greatest authors of our time? I started out on this journey to find what inspired Hemingway, but what I learned however, was the vast influence that Hemingway had on other artists and their work. Displayed throughout his home, are three very strong themes that cascade down his walls. Many of the paintings were inspired by Hemingway and donated to the family and museum after his death. The themes range from nautical Key West, art from around the globe and cats… many cats.
Key West, Florida is located about 150 miles south of Miami and approximately 90 miles to Cuba. This island holds rich history and some of the best deep sea fishing Florida has to offer. It is rumored that Hemingway bought his home in Key West just for the fishing alone and ended up falling in love with the island itself. In 1937, he was so inspired by the island, he even composed a small novel titled, To Have and Have Not. Displayed in his hallway is a painting by Mario Sanchez, of the streets of Key West with a Cuban influence. Although donated the home after his death, Sanchez found great inspiration in the island Hemingway was once so enchanted with.
Displayed above Hemingway’s bed is a painting of his home by artist Henry Faulkner. His home is depicted as standing tall with pride and is adorned with all of the plush life surrounding his abode. Cats decorate the exterior relaxing and playing, just as they do in real life and birds fly above and create homes out of all of the tiny crevices they can find along the property. Faulkner was known as being ostentatious in life as well as his art, which is why he was so drawn to Hemingway and his love for life.
One of the most pivotal moments that I experienced while touring this rich home, is the statue of a little cat sitting atop a dark display cabinet. Marked by the primary colours of red, yellow, black and white it stands within a plexiglass case watching all that enter and exit the room. To those that enter his house, this little cat could easily be looked over, however, to any art lover this geometrically abstract statue was a treasure to behold. Interestingly enough, this feline figurine is a replica of it’s original. A Pablo Picasso. According to our informative docent, Hemingway once bartered with Picasso a case of hand grenades in exchange for this cat in Paris. It was mentioned that Hemingway was not leaving without it! Local Key West artist, Bob Orlin, created the replica that is in the home currently.
Hemingway's love for his cats went beyond just having them on his property and displayed in his art, they were truly a part of his family. According to the Hemingway house website, there can be as many as 40–50 polydactyl cats at any given time at the home. As you walk the grounds they can be seen sun bathing by the pool, sleeping in Hemingway’s bed and taking photos with the visitors. As written in Hemingway’s Cats, Hemingway had a passion for the six-toed cats although the original litter belonged to his neighbors. It wasn’t until they started encroaching onto his property that Hemingway and his children would start to look after them. They impacted his life in such a way that he even wrote about the death of a particular cat, the first to make his acquaintance in Key West, in Islands in the Stream, 1970.
As I leave the Hemingway home, I can’t help but feel the same inspiration that Michael Docherty must have felt while painting his tribute. His home exudes a whirlwind life fulfilled by rich experiences leading up to a tragic end. His life may be over but lives on through the island of Key West, his cats and the vast array of artists that are still inspired by his legacy left behind.
Victoria Quemada, pursing MA in Art History, currently residing in the US