This breed’s defining characteristic is its plush blue coat, with tips lightly brushed with silver—a color French author Colette described as “mauve and bluish like the throat of ringdoves.” The dense, water-repellent coat is medium-short and slightly woolly, with a resilient undercoat and a longer, protective topcoat. The degree of woolliness depends on age, gender, and environment; mature males usually have the heaviest coats. Silkier, thinner coats are allowable on females and cats under two years old. Blue (called gray outside the cat fancy) in any shade from ash to slate, is the only acceptable coat color. Hair tips are lightly brushed with silver. The emphasis is on color clarity and uniformity rather than shade, although bright blue with an iridescent sheen is preferred. Only solid blue coloring is allowed in show quality cats, although faint striping or tail rings may be evident until two years of age; allowance is made for these traits in the show ring.
The Chartreux is a muscular, robust breed with a medium-long body, broad shoulders, and a deep chest. The musculature is solid and dense, and the boning is strong. Males are walking fortresses, larger and more massive than the females. Females are smaller—Rubenesque rather than Rambo-esque—but still solid, strong, and muscular. Adult males weigh 10 to 15 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 11 pounds. No outcrossing is allowed.
The straight and sturdy legs are comparatively short and fine-boned. The feet are round and midsize, and may appear almost dainty compared to the cat’s solid body. Because of this, the Chartreux is sometimes unflatteringly referred to as a potato on toothpicks. They are amply built, but Chartreux should also be refined and neither coarse nor clumsy. They are extremely supple and agile cats with lightning-quick reflexes and sharp senses.
The head is broad and rounded but not spherical, set on a short, heavy-set neck. The jaws are powerful and the cheeks are full. The forehead is high and softly contoured; the nose is straight and of medium length and width, with a slight stop at eye level. The muzzle is comparatively small, narrow and tapered but not pointed, with slight whisker pads that contribute to the sweet, smiling expression. The ears are medium in height and width, very erect, and set high on the head. The rounded, wide-set eyes are alert and expressive, and range in color from copper to gold. A clear, deep, brilliant orange is preferred. Green eyes are cause for disqualification.
The Chartreux was crossed with Persians to save the breed after World War II, and because of that, longhaired Chartreux occasionally occur in otherwise shorthaired litters if both parents carry the recessive gene for long hair. Longhaired Chartreux are not accepted for showing in any organization. At one time, a move was made to accept these cats in Europe under the name Benedictine. It’s likely Chartreux breeders would strongly object to such efforts, because it would change the breed that they’ve worked so hard to perfect and preserve.
The Chartreux (pronounced shar-TROO) has been around for so many centuries that it’s hard to say with certainty where and when the breed first developed. Like most other breeds with long histories, stories abound about this cat’s origins. The best-known tale is that the Chartreux was bred by Carthusian monks at the Grande Chartreuse Monastery, the chief monastery of the Carthusian order, located north of Grenoble in southeastern France. As the story goes, the breed was named after the monks’ world-famous yellow and green Chartreuse liqueurs, and the cats were selectively bred to have quiet voices so they would not disturb the monks’ meditations.
According to Jean Simonnet’s authoritative 1980 book, The Chartreux Cat (translated into English by Jerome Auerbach in 1989), the first written mention of the Chartreux can be found in the Universal Dictionary of Commerce, Natural History, and of the Arts and Trades by Savarry des Bruslon, published in 1723. A technical manuscript for merchants, it described the Chartreux as the common name for a type of cat with a blue coat whose pelt was used by furriers. The Universal Dictionary also notes that the Chartreux was first owned by the monks of this name. However, either the Chartreux did not actually originate there or the monks did not consider their quiet blue mousers noteworthy enough to remark upon (or the records were lost over the centuries), because the monastery’s records do not mention cats, blue or any other color. It’s possible that the breed was named for a Spanish wool of the same name that was well-known in the early 1700s, given the woolliness of this cat’s coat.
The 36-volume Histoire Naturelle (Natural History, begun in 1749), by French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, lists four cat breeds that were common in Europe in that time: Domestic, Angora, Spanish and Chartreux. As to the breed’s origins before that, Simonnet notes that the Chartreux probably came from the Near East; a breed described by the Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) as the Cat of Syria was probably its ancestor. In Simonnet’s book, an illustration of the Cat of Syria shows a stocky cat with solid blue coloring and vivid, copper-colored, almond-shaped eyes. Beside the cat, a brown mouse cowers, as evidence of the Chartreux’s keen hunting instincts.
Probably brought to Europe from the Near East in merchant ships, the Chartreux was established as a French breed sometime in the 16th century. It’s a testament to the breed’s hardiness and adaptability that these cats survived at all, since in the early days they were apparently not numerous and weren’t treated with the love and kindness the breed now enjoys. Primarily street cats, they were valued for their rat-catching prowess and, for a time, their luxurious pelts.
Regardless of exactly when and where the breed arose, the Chartreux obviously has been around for centuries. Fortunately, today’s Chartreux cats are prized for their value as loving companions, and fanciers prefer the Chartreux’s thick, luxurious fur firmly attached to their beloved pets.
The Chartreux as we know it today began in the 1920s when two sisters, Christine and Suzanne Leger, discovered a colony of Chartreux on the small island of Belle Ile off the coast of Brittany in France. These free-roaming blue cats lived on the grounds of a hospital in the city of Le Palais. The people of Palais called them "hospital cats," and the sisters were taken with their beauty and thick blue coats. The Legers were the first to work seriously with the breed, and in 1931, they exhibited the Chartreux in Paris.
The devastation of World War II decimated the breed. After the war, no more free-roaming colonies of Chartreux cats could be found, and it took a great deal of effort to save the Chartreux from extinction. The few remaining Chartreux were bred with blue British Shorthairs, Russian Blues, and blue Persians.
For a time in Europe, the Chartreux was grouped into a single breed category with the British Shorthair and the Russian Blue, and crossbreeding was common. This is no longer the case, and the Chartreux is considered a separate breed. Today, in France, the breed club Le Club du Chat des Chartreux (cat of the Carthusian monks) works to promote and protect the Chartreux.
Helen Gamon of La Jolla, California, imported the first Chartreux from France in 1970. She brought back three cats—Tornade, Taquin, and Thilda—who became the foundation for the North American Chartreux. Gamon and other dedicated breeders were instrumental in establishing and advancing the Chartreux in the United States. The U.S. Chartreux gene pool is said to be one of the purest in the world. The breed was accepted for CFA championship in 1987 and today is accepted by all North American cat associations.