A generous French philanthropist has left a sum of money to some unusual beneficiaries in his will – a bunch of cats living in the basement of the State Hermitage Museum in Russia.
Around 50 cats live in the famous St. Petersburg museum – or should that be mewseum? – which is home to 3 million works of art, artifacts and sculptures spread across buildings including the Winter Palace.
The site has been home to cats since the time of Empress Elizabeth, who reigned from 1741 to 1761, according to the museum.
Catherine the Great, the founder of the Hermitage, gave the cats the status of guardians of the art galleries, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported, noting that the cats were housed to keep rodents from the premises.
Now, they are taken care of by volunteers and museum staff, and supported by donations, according to the museum, which notes that the animals have their own washing machine and the services of a local veterinarian.
The museum’s general director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, said in a press conference earlier this month that the unnamed French philanthropist was so taken with the animals that he left a “small sum” to them in his will.
“Our French friend did a very good thing; this is brilliant PR for both the cats and charity. The sum is not very big but it’s very important when the person writes a will, when the French lawyers contact (us) and it’s all not a simple (process) but this is all very interesting, isn’t it?” he said.
“Such a nice gesture that came from France,” he added.
The funds will likely be used to repair the museum’s basements, where the cats live, Piotrovsky said.
“I think the cats will express their will – our colleagues are well-versed in communicating with them and understanding their language,” he added.
The unnamed benefactor certainly wasn’t the only person to have fallen for the cats’ charms – according to Piotrovsky, the former president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Fortov, was a “constant friend” of the Hermitage cats. Fortov, who died last month, would sometimes stop by the museum to leave money for the animals, Piotrovsky said.
This year, more than 800 people submitted pictures and photographs of the cats for the museum’s Day of the Hermitage Cat.