Cats on the Page at the British Library celebrates our much-loved furry friends in literature

Jellicle Cats illustration (c) Axel Scheffler published in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (c) T. S. Eliot and Faber & Faber

Cats on the Page is a new exhibition at the British Library that brings familiar and much-loved feline favourites together with the eclectic and unexpected to celebrate the myriad ways in which cats have captured the cultural imagination for hundreds of years.

Through an array of poetry, artwork, fables and fairy tales from around the world, this free show explores the various literary guises that cats have appeared under throughout the centuries: from comical cats to master criminals, the lovable to the mysterious and magical.

Books, manuscripts and artwork from the British Library’s own collections are displayed together for the first time alongside a number of original illustrations, with loans from Seven Stories, Judith Kerr, Posy Simmonds, Axel Scheffler, Quentin Blake and the T. S. Eliot Foundation. The exhibition coincides with the 80th anniversary year of the original publication of Eliot’s classic poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Staged in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, Cats on the Page contains family-friendly elements such as a family trail, sound recordings and a children’s reading corner. The accompanying events programme contains events to appeal to all ages, some of which are already sold-out. Highlights include legendary illustrator and author Judith Kerr in conversation with her art editor, Ian Craig and philosopher John Gray exploring the relationship between cats and humans, asking: what can cats teach us about how to live?

"Cats have inspired our imagination and creativity for many years – long before their days of dominance on the internet," says Alison Bailey, the lead curator of Cats on the Page. "At an early age we meet them in rhymes and picture books whilst as adults, we are introduced to more stories to savour and reflect upon.

"By bringing cats we know and love together with new ones from unexpected sources, Cats on the Page showcases the light-hearted side of the British Library’s world-class collections through a selection of just some of the hundreds of paws prowling the pages of its books and manuscripts."

For more information, visit www.bl.uk/events. A range of handpicked books and gifts is available from the British Library Shop and online, for a limited time only. For more information, go to www.bl.uk/shop.

Tabby Polka by P- Bucalossi, 1865 (c) The British Library Board

Tabby Polka by P- Bucalossi, 1865 (c) The British Library Board

Pussy's Breakfast Time, London, Ernest Nister, 1892 (c) The British Library Board

Pussy's Breakfast Time, London, Ernest Nister, 1892 (c) The British Library Board

Winnie Turns Wilbur Green, Winnie and Wilbur illustration (c) Korky Paul

Winnie Turns Wilbur Green, Winnie and Wilbur illustration (c) Korky Paul

Mrs Tabitha's Cats Academy, London, Ernest Nister, 1892 (c) The British Library Board

Mrs Tabitha's Cats Academy, London, Ernest Nister, 1892 (c) The British Library Board