The Chartreux (pronounced “shar-true”) is a shorthaired, solid blue cat with a Mona Lisa smile, a gentle, sweet personality, and gloriously plush fur. Known as the smiling cat of France, the Chartreux has had his ups and downs over the many centuries of his existence. True to his nature, the Chartreux has come through it all with a smile.
History and Origin of Chartreux Cats
As the legend goes, the Chartreux breed developed at the Le Grand Chartreux monastery in the French Alps just outside Paris. The Carthusian order of monks at the monastery, in their spare time between praying, liqueur-making and weapon-forging, bred Chartreux cats with the same skill and dedication with which they created their world-famous yellow and green Chartreuse liqueurs.
The monastery was founded in 1084 by St. Bruno, but the cats, if the story is true, didn’t arrive there until the end of the Crusades in the 13th century, when crusading knights limped home and retired to monastic life. They brought with them plundered goods that included blue cats that may have been picked up in Syria. Legend has it that the monks selectively bred these felines to have quiet voices so the cats would not disturb their meditations by meowing. (The monastery’s records do not mention cats, blue or any other color.)
Regardless of where he originated, the breed has been around a long time. The verifiable history of the Chartreux began in the 16th century, according to the literature of the period. The Histoire Naturelle, written in the 1700s by biologist Comte de Buffon, lists four cat breeds that were common to Europe by that time: domestic, Angora, Spanish and Chartreux. These cats did not lead easy lives in those days; primarily street cats, they were valued for their rat-catching abilities. By the beginning of the 1900s, trade dictionaries and encyclopedias listed Chartreux as the common name of a type of blue cat whose pelt was prized by furriers. It’s a testament to the breed’s hardiness and adaptability that the Chartreux survived at all.
After World War I, French cat breeders became interested in preserving the Chartreux as a unique breed. In the 1920s two sisters named Christine and Suzanne Leger discovered a colony of blue cats on the small Brittany island of Belle-Ile, off the coast of France. These free-roaming cats lived around a hospital in the city of Le Palais, and matched the description of the Chartreux breed. The Leger sisters decided to work with the breed, wrote a breed standard, and in 1931 first exhibited the Chartreux. Unhappily, World War II decimated the breed and after the war no more free-roaming colonies of Chartreux cats could be found. The few remaining Chartreux cats were bred with blue British shorthairs, Russian blues and blue Persians to keep the breed from extinction.
The Chartreux made his journey to the United States in 1970, when the late Helen Gamon of La Jolla, California, heard about the cats and made a trip to France, bringing back three Chartreux cats. These cats became the foundation for the North American Chartreux. Gamon was instrumental in establishing and promoting the Chartreux in the United States, and developing the breed. Today’s Chartreux is very similar to the hardy French street cats of the 1700s.
Appearance of a Chartreux
The Chartreux is sometimes unflatteringly called a “potato on toothpicks” because of the way his robust, cobby body seems to balance on comparatively short, fine-boned legs. Nevertheless, the Chartreux is as agile and elegant as any feline. The body is medium-long, husky and robust, with broad shoulders, a deep chest, powerful muscles and strong boning. Males are larger and have a more massive musculature than the females; the males have been described as “walking fortresses.” Females are smaller but still plenty of pounce per ounce.
The Chartreux’s head is rounded and broad with powerful jaws and full cheeks. The muzzle is comparatively small and tapered, and that mysterious smile is part of the breed’s standard – frowning Chartreux cats are frowned upon in show quality cats. Medium sized ears are set high on the head and have a very erect posture. The eyes are rounded, open and expressive, which adds to the sweet, smiling expression. Eye color is copper to gold with brilliant orange preferred.
One of this breed’s defining characteristics is his plush, wooly coat. Solid blue is the only accepted color and pattern, better known as gray to the lay cat person. Any shade from ash to slate is acceptable. The coat is medium-short and has a woolly texture and a resilient undercoat. The coat is dense and soft to the touch and water repellent, perfect for surviving the cold, wet climate of the French Alps.