by Debra Rexelle

Originally published in The Cat Fanciers’ Almanac, June 1999

GC Tellacats Volvo of Ashmanor, male.
Br: Suzanne Tell. Ow: Debra Rexelle.

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.

GC Ashmanor Cendrette, female.
Br/Ow: Debra Rexelle.

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.

Amoureuse Limoges of Les Plushes, female.
Br: Don and Luci Koizumi
Ow: Akiko Ishimura

The first recorded breedings of the Chartreux began around 1928 by the Leger sisters, on the island of Belle-Ile-sur-Mer, an island off the northwest tip of France. The sisters (de Guerveur Cattery) started with a local colony of cats with distinct Chartreux type. The cats were known locally as the “Hospital Cats” as they were found residing around the island’s church-run hospital in the town of Palais. Mlle. Leger wrote in 1935, that from first generation breedings they obtained remarkable results and that all the kittens were blue and typey.

In the summer of 1970, Helen and John Gamon (Gamonal Cattery) of La Jolla, CA, traveled to France in hope of finding some Chartreux cats. The only knowledge Helen had of the breed at that time came from a short article in Fernand Mery’s book, The Life, History and Magic of the Cat (1966).

Mery wrote of the breed’s history, both in fact and legend, and compared the Chartreux to other blue shorthair breeds of cats. He also wrote of Colette’s attraction to the breed. In his description of the Chartreux, he states, “The Chartreux is a cat of rural France. It has a stockier body line than the British Blue. It stands solidly on comparatively short, well-muscled legs. Its head is round but set on a thick-set neck and having really full cheeks. It has a very powerful jaw, temptingly reminiscent of that of the European wild cat. Its ears are of medium size and set high on the rounded skull. Its fur is woollier than that of any breed described so far.”

This description inspired Mrs. Gamon to search for the Chartreux breed, but it wasn’t until three weeks after they arrived in France that any were to be found. Tornade de St. Pierre was the first one they saw. They bought her and a younger male, Taquin de St. Pierre, from the cattery of Madame Bastide. Both cats were sired by Michou de Fernine, who was Best Chartreux of France in 1967. These cats are probably found in the pedigrees of most Chartreux today.

Taquin de St. Pierre, male.
First Chartreux imported to the US, 1970.

After Helen Gamon imported the first Chartreux into the United States, she wrote, “It came as a great surprise to learn there were no other Chartreux registered in the U.S. or Canada and I was unable to locate any owners of the breed here. I sent back to France and Belgium for other kittens, a little female from the latter being daughter of the Best Chartreux of Belgium in 1970.” This female was known as Thilda of Saint Marcoult. Not long after this, Genevieve Scudder of San Diego, Ca (Arista Cattery), imported Ixion de Guerveur in 1974. In pictures these foundation cats look the same as the champion Chartreux of the 1930s as well as today’s grand champions.

Meanwhile, in Europe in 1970, FIFe combined the Chartreux with the British Blue and adopted the British standard for both, which would have led to the elimination of the Chartreux as we know it. Several French breeders protested vehemently, and M. Jean Simonnet presented research papers in 1972 and 1974 providing documented historical proof that the Chartreux were a distinct breed of cat.

In 1977, FIFe separated the two breeds with a separate standard for each. This decision came just in time, as there were only a few genuine Chartreux left. The Chartreux standard created at that time was the basis for the Chartreux standards for CFA and all North American cat associations. Other independent cat registries in France and Europe may still allow hybrid crosses as Chartreux, so one must be careful when importing Chartreux to look for the proper pedigrees.

In October 1979, CFA accepted the Chartreux for registration as a natural breed. Provisional status was obtained in 1986, and one year later in 1987, the breed, having fulfilled all of the requirements for advancement, obtained championship status in CFA. I remember the February 1987 board meeting quite well to this day.

GP Aneise Nellie of Ajolie, spay.
Br: Jessie Strike-McClelland.
Ow: Dru Milligan and Jolie Stratton.

There was a fine celebration by enthusiastic Chartreux breeders and owners at Pike’s Market in Seattle, WA, and we were joined by the Ocicat breeders, who had also advanced to Championship status that day. This was another journey forward for the Chartreux, a breed that has traveled so far over hundreds of years.

During the first year of championship status (1987-88), late in the season (March), the first Chartreux granded: GC Sheenahs’ Chantal of Katoklix, bred by Shirley Rosenberg of Syracuse, NY and owned by Marcus and Gena Click of Concord, NC.

Chantal was followed in April by the second grand champion, GC Velure Ballade, bred and owned by Catherine Kisrow of Nashville, TN. These cats went on to become Best and Second Best of Breed that year.

Now, 11 show seasons later, there are 204 grand champions and grand premiers in the Chartreux breed: 75 male grand champions, 65 female grand champions, and an even 32 male and 32 female grand premiers.

Best of Breed GC Sheenah’s Chantal of Katoklix
2nd Best of Breed GC Velure Ballade
Best of Breed GC Frenchcon’s Claude of Jacquelnjil
2nd Best of Breed GC Velure Dauphine
Best of Breed GC, GP, NW Katoklix Devin
2nd Best of Breed GC, GP, RW Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM
Best of Breed GC, GP, NW Katoklix Devin
2nd Best of Breed GC, RW Frenchcon’s Elmer F
Best of Breed GC, RW Frenchcon’s Elmer F
2nd Best of Breed GC, GP, RW Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM
Best of Breed GC, RW Backcountry Giselle of Sinaye
2nd Best of Breed GC, RW Ashmanor Delorean
Best of Breed GC Lutece Hymne a la Joie
2nd Best of Breed GC Ashmanor Encore
Best of Breed GC, RW Backcountry Ivie Bleu of Clervaux
2nd Best of Breed GC Katmanbleu Isis of Minetbleu
Best of Breed GC, RW Lutece Janis Joplin of Sinaye
2nd Best of Breed GC, RW Janvier Jaclyn
Best of Breed GC, RW Janvier Larissa
2nd Best of Breed GC, RW Aneise Lucien of Bellereve
Best of Breed GC, RW Lutece Melisande
2nd Best of Breed GC Columbleu’s Millenium Thyme
3rd Best of Breed GC Tiarableu’s Monique
GC, GP, NW Katoklix Devin, male.
CFA’s 17th Best Cat 1990-91. Br/Ow: Marcus and Gena Click.

In 1990, the first regional winning Chartreux in championship was GC Katoklix Devin, bred and owned by Marcus and Gena Click. The following show season “Devin” went on to be the first national winning Chartreux as CFA’s 17th Best Cat. It appears that this show season there may be more national winners to celebrate.

Note: This article was published just before the end of the 1998-99 show season – there were indeed 2 new National Winners that season, pictured below:

GC, NW Janvier Nicole, female.
Gulf Shore Region’s 10th Best Kitten 1998.
CFA’s 9th Best Cat, 1998-99.
Br/Ow: Donald and Mary Ann Sweeters.

GC, GP, NW Backcountry Minden of Sourirbleu, female.
CFA’s 7th Best Cat in Premiership 1998-99.
Br/Ow: Mary Rathbun and Gina Wiley.

Up to the end of the 1997-98 show season there had been 17 regional-winning Chartreux in championship, of which ten were males and seven were females.

GC, RW Backcountry’s Giselle of Sinaye, female.
Gulf Shore Region’s 11th Best Cat 1993.
Br: Mary A. Rathbun. Ow: Denise and Jerry Williams.

In 1994, the first Chartreux kitten to recieve a regional win was GC, RW Clervaux Jete of Sinaye, bred by Christine Fuge and Mary Jane Sams and owned by C. Fuge, M.J. Sams, and D. and J. Williams. Jete is the highest-scoring regional-winning kitten to date. Since that time there have been six more regional-winning Chartreux kittens: two males and five females.

In premiership the first regional win came in 1992 with GP. RW Belleisle Estee’, bred by Penny Rice and owned by Lisa Tanner. There have been a total of 12 Chartreux regional winners in premiership, five females and seven males.

National Winner – Championship
1990-91 GC, GP, NW Katoklix Devin
Regional Winners – Championship
1989-90 GC, GP, NW Katoklix Devin
GC, GP, RW Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM
1990-91 GC, RW Frenchcon’s Elmer F
1991-92 GC, RW Frenchcon’s Elmer F
GC, GP, RW Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM
1992-93 GC, RW Backcountry Giselle of Sinaye
GC, RW Ashmanor Delorean
GC, RW Sandfire’s Gizmo
GC, RW Rivierebleu Geronimo of Lebeauyeux
1994-95 GC, RW Backcountry Ivie Bleu of Clervaux
GC, RW Backcountry Ironique of Sinaye
1995-96 GC, RW Lutece Janis Joplin of Sinaye
GC, RW Janvier Jaclyn
GC, RW Clervaux Jete of Sinaye
GC, RW Backcountry Ironique of Sinaye
1996-97 GC, RW Janvier Larissa
GC, RW Aneise Lucien of Bellereve
1997-98 GC, RW Lutece Melisande
Regional Winners – Kittens
1994-95 GC, RW Clervaux Jete of Sinaye
1995-96 GC, RW Janvier’s L’Etoille
1996-97 GC, RW Clervaux Milagro Alegre
1997-98 GC, RW Janvier Noelle
GC, RW Janvier Nicole
GC, RW Backcountry Neon Moon of Sourirbleu
GC, RW Clervaux Notre Amitie of Belleisle
Regional Winners – Premiership
1991-92 GP, RW Belleisle’s Estee of Katmanbleu
1992-93 GP, RW Sandfire’s Graymalkin of Isere
GP, RW Steppenbleu Gervais
1993-94 GP, RW Katmanbleu’s Haute Couture
CH, GP, RW Clervaux Holly Golightly
1995-96 GP, RW Clervaux Je Ronronne of Chartres
1996-97 GP, RW Fourth Paw All That Jazz of Chatton
GC, GP, RW Backcountry Mr. Irresistible
1997-98 GP, RW Webefrench Mon Ami of Belleisle
GP, RW Janvier Matthieu
CH, GP, RW Lutece Lux Perpetua of Chartres
GP Belleisle Enchante Chat, neuter (left) and
GC, GP, RW Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM, neuter (right).
Gulf Shore Region’s 17th Best Cat 1992. Br/Ow: Penny Rice

The Chartreux breed is proud to have ten Distinguished Merit winners, eight females and two males. The breed’s first DM was in 1990, Sheba Shariffe, DM, owned by Shirley Rosenberg. The first male Chartreux to receive this honor, in 1994, was GC, GP Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM, bred and owned by Penny Rice of Frisco, CO.

1990 Sheba Shariffe, DM
1991 Velure Andrea, DM
1992 CH Sheenahs Ashley of Ashmanor, DM
1993 CH Backcountry Camille, DM
1994 GC, GP, RW Belleisle’s Cashmere Critter, DM
1996 GC Katoklix Isabella of Janvier, DM
1997 Lutece Insouciance, DM
1998 GC Aneise Iris Juin of Janvier, DM
1998 GC Katoklix Halston of Janvier, DM
1998 GC Lutece Galatee, DM
GC, RW Lutece Melisande, female.
Northwest Region’s 10th Best Cat 1998.
Br: Emily Orca Starbuck and B. Renaud.
Ow: Emily Orca Starbuck.

With the continued success of the Chartreux in CFA and with the promise of new national and regional winners to come, we are still reminded of a breed that has remained “unchanged” for hundreds of years. A constant effort by dedicated breeders is necessary for the preservation of the Chartreux as a distinct breed, both in North America and abroad. We thank them for their continuing efforts.