The Chartreux is a rare breed of domestic cat from France and is recognised by a number of registries around the world. The Chartreux is large and muscular, with relatively short, fine-boned limbs, and very fast reflexes. They are known for their blue (grey) water-resistant short hair double coats which are often slightly nappy in texture (often showing “breaks” like a sheepskin) and orange- or copper-colored eyes. Chartreux cats are also known for their “smile”: due to the structure of their heads and their tapered muzzles, they often appear to be smiling.

A “smiling” Chartreux

With his cloak of gray fur, sober as a monk’s robes,  it’s no wonder that the Chartreux was associated with the Carthusian order in France. The quiet mousers would have been perfect companions for members of the silent, solitary order. It’s a pretty legend, but there is no real evidence that the cats were kept by the Carthusians, although perhaps they were simply not considered important enough to mention.

A more likely scenario is that the cats, a natural breed, were commonly found in France at least as far back as the 18th century, performing rat patrol in stables, shops and homes. Unfortunately for the beautifully furred felines, they were also prized by furriers for their thick blue pelts. A type of luxurious wool called “pile de Chartreux” may have taken its name from the soft, woolly coated cats.

As with so many breeds, however, it’s not really known how the cats came by their name or how or where they were developed. One of the earliest references to a French gray cat dates to 1558, an epitaph for Belaud, who belonged to poet Joachin de Bellay. Bellay describes Belaud “death to rats,” which is certainly an attribute of the breed, then and now.

he Chartreux is sweet and quiet with a gentle, amenable nature. He enjoys being a lap cat and is the ultimate television-watching pal. When a lap isn’t available he follows his people wherever they go. Throw a ball for him to chase, or be amazed by his acrobatics when you dangle a fishing-pole toy for his entertainment. The Chartreux chirps when he wants your attention but is otherwise quiet.

Chartreux kittens

Gentle he may be, but the Chartreux is also playful and intelligent. Challenge his brain and keep him interested in life by teaching him tricks and providing him with puzzle toys that will reward him with kibble or treats when he learns how to manipulate them.

Free-living groups of the cats lived in Paris and other areas of France until the early 1900s. They were not much valued, except for their skins and their aptitude for vermin control. It wasn’t until after World War I that French cat lovers took steps to preserve the breed. They gathered as many cats as they could and wrote a breed standard. Using only the cats that met the standard and produced kittens that met it, they were able to begin exhibiting the cats in European shows in either 1928 or 1931, depending on the source. One of the breed’s early adherents was the novelist Colette, whose Chartreux Saha took pride of place in her book La Chatte. General Charles de Gaulle was also known to love the breed, owning one named Gris Gris.

It was fortunate that fanciers had begun to breed the Chartreux when they did, because after World War II, none of the free-roaming cats could be found. Chartreux, which are still uncommon, were first imported into the United States in 1970 and were recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association in 1987. Today the cats are recognized by all major American cat associations. The Chartreux is even the official mascot of the Montreux Jazz Festival. They are less known in Europe, even in their homeland of France. Unlike many cat breeds, they have changed little over the years and remain, as Bellay wrote:

“the most handsome perhaps

That nature ever made in cat’s clothing.”




About John Viney

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