The Russian Blue is a fine-boned, muscular cat known for its beautiful silver-tipped blue fur, dramatic emerald-green eyes, and mysterious Mona Lisa smile. Combined with an elegant, refined body style, the Russian Blue is a strikingly beautiful breed.
The body is long, firm and muscular. The Blue is lithe and graceful in outline and carriage without being tubular in appearance. Fine boned and without excessive bulk, the Blue might appear a bit chunkier because of the dense coat. The legs are long, ending with small, slightly rounded paws. The tail is long but in proportion to the body and tapers from a moderately thick base. Adult males weigh 7 to 11 pounds; adult females weigh 5 to 8 pounds. No outcrosses are allowed.
The head is a smooth, medium wedge, neither long and tapering nor short and massive. The blunt muzzle is a smooth, flowing shape without prominent whisker pads, whisker pinches, or whisker breaks. The upturned corners of the mouth form the unique smile. The top of the skull is long and flat in profile, gently descending to slightly above the eyes and continuing at a slight downward angle in a straight line to the tip of the nose. The medium-length nose is without a break or stop. The face is broad across the eyes due to the wide-set eyes and the thick fur.
The eyes are rounded and are a vivid green. The ears are rather large and wide at the base, with tips that are more pointed than rounded. They are set far apart, as much on the side as on the top of the head. The skin of the ears is thin and translucent, with little inside furnishings. The outside of the ear is scantily covered with short, very fine hair.
The short, double coat is dense and so plush that it stands out from the body. The texture is soft and silky, but it’s the silver-tipped blue color that catches the eye.
In North American cat associations the Russian Blue comes in one color only—blue (called gray outside the cat fancy). The blue is even and bright throughout, with lighter shades preferred. The guard hairs have silver tipping that reflects light, giving the coat a silvery sheen. In Australia, a new breed was developed by crossing Russian Blues with a solid white domestic shorthair from Russia. From this line, solid white and solid black cats were developed. The breed is called the "Russian" or the “Russian Shorthair” and is currently accepted in solid blue, solid white, and solid black in various associations around the world, including the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), Australian Cat Federation (ACF), and New Zealand Cat Fancy (NZCF). In North America, ACFA was first to accept these new colors for championship in 2010 as a separate breed. ACA also accepts the Russian Shorthair, but it’s unlikely that Russian Whites and Russian Blacks will be accepted in all North American associations.
In the late 1800s, the Russian Blue was well known in Britain. But this breed had been around long before that. Exactly how long and from where the breed originated we might never know; the Russian Blue’s origins are based largely on conjecture and legend. The tale most commonly told is that Russian Blues originated in northern Russia, and in the 1860s were transported to Great Britain from the port city of Arkhangelsk. This is the reason the breed was once called the Archangel Blue.
No direct evidence confirms the story, but we have none that disproves it, either. According to fanciers, similar cats can be found today in the colder regions of Russia. The Russian Blue’s plush double coat would certainly be an advantage in an area that’s close to the Arctic Circle-Arkhangelsk lies on the Northern Dvina River near its exit into the White Sea. The chief seaport of medieval Russia, the city was icebound five months of the year before improvements were made in icebreaker ships. A dense fur coat is survival gear in that frigid climate.
The story of the Archangel Blue also maintains that these cats lived in the wild and were hunted for their beaver-like fur, which could explain both their intelligence and their wariness around strangers. Folklore also has it that Russian Blues are descended from the royal cats of Russian czars, but the legend is silent regarding exactly when these cats were czar companions.
Fanciers believe sailors brought the cats from Arkhangelsk to Northern Europe and England in the 1860s and the cats quickly became favorites of Queen Victoria (1819–1901). If so, the queen likely loved the color blue, since she reportedly also had a number of blue Persians.
The documented history of the breed began in the late 1800s in Great Britain. Russian Blues were first shown in 1875 at London’s Crystal Palace in under the name Archangel Cat. A newspaper writer of the time dubbed the breed "a very handsome cat, coming from Archangel… particularly furry…. They resemble mostly the common wild gray rabbit."
Unfortunately for the Russian Blue, the British cat fancy grouped all shorthaired blue cats into one category, despite obvious differences in coat, body, and head type. Because Harrison Weir, considered the father of the cat fancy, favored the sturdy British Blues (known today as the British Shorthair), they invariably won the show ribbons, while the Russian Blues—as beautiful and elegant as they were—lost out to their stockier competitors.
Finally in 1912, to the delight of the Russian Blue fanciers, the British registry GCCF recognized the Russian Blue as a separate breed and granted it a class of its own, described as "Blue Foreign type." Interest in the breed was rekindled, and the Russian Blue made good progress until World War II, when the breed nearly ceased to exist, as did many other breeds in Europe. In those terrible times, few British fanciers had enough resources to preserve their breeds.
After the war, independent groups of breeders in Britain, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark worked to bring the Blue back from the brink. Because so few purebred Russian Blues remained, they accomplished this by crossbreeding. In Britain, the remaining Russian Blues were crossed with bluepoint Siamese and British Blues. In the Scandinavian countries, breeders crossed blue cats from Finland with Siamese in an attempt to recreate the breed. Because of this, the coat, body, and head type varied, sometimes vastly, depending upon the breeders and where they lived.
The first Russian Blues arrived in America in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until after World War II that breeding programs began there. British and Swedish breeders provided much of the foundation stock. In 1949, CFA accepted the Russian Blue for registration. However, the breed didn’t catch on immediately because of inconsistency in the breeding cats. Some breeders were working with lines from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, while others worked with British stock, neither of which met the ideal. In the 1960s, to achieve a consistent body, head, and coat type, breeders shared their stock and worked together to combine the plush, silver-tipped pale blue coats and sturdy boning of the British bloodlines with the lovely emerald green eyes, attractive head type, and elegant bodies of the Scandinavian bloodlines. After many years of hard work, breeders achieved a uniform look very close to the original appearance, and the Russian Blue began to gain popularity.
Success in the show ring followed the conformation improvements, and all North American cat associations now accept the breed for championship competition. Even though its numbers are still relatively modest (the breed is the 19th most popular out of the 41 breeds CFA accepts for championship competition, according to the association’s 2014 registration totals), the Russian Blue has a loyal following and does well in shows. The comparatively small group of North American Russian Blue breeders is close-knit and possessive of their breed—they are dedicated to protecting the breed they’ve worked so hard to perfect.