Sunday, April 29, 2018

Cats in Art: A Boy and a Girl With a Cat and an Eel (Leyster)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.  You really should check out and/or own both of these wonderful works, easily available on Amazon or eBay (and I have no financial interest).

The bride and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation in France this fall where we were privileged to see both the Louvre and Orsay Museums.  Of the two, the Orsay was much better--less crowded, could get closer to the paintings, more cats.

Image credit The Catster, A Boy and a Girl With a Cat and an Eel, Judith Leyster, ca 1635, 23" x 19', oil on oak, held by The National Gallery, London, UK.

And the sad kitty close-up:

The laconic comment from The Catster:
Speaking of action, Judith Leyster’s 17th-century A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel is thought to allude to the Dutch saying, “He who plays with cats gets scratched.” This fancifully collared young lass is counting down the seconds to her brother’s violent feline education.

The official museum website, dreadfully British, tells us:

It has recently been suggested that this painting serves as a warning against foolish and mischievous behaviour. The boy has used the small eel to entice the cat into his grasp and then withholds the bait, while the girl teases the cat further by pulling its tail. Judging by its extended claws, the cat is about to scratch the boy. The picture thus seems to allude to the Dutch saying: 'He who plays with cats gets scratched', meaning he who looks for trouble will get it. It was common in Dutch 17th-century painting to use children in order to point out the foolish behaviour of adults.

Judith Leyster, a painter of genre scenes, portraits and still lifes, was mainly active in Haarlem and Amsterdam. In 1636 she married the painter Jan Miense Molenaer, whose work is also represented in the collection. The broad brushstrokes, the cropped composition and the depiction of youthful happiness all show Frans Hals’ influence on Leyster.

This poor kitty's fuse is smoldering.  I don't think the explosion is imminent, but still some seconds away.  There's still time to defuse the situation and let the cat loose....failing that, some scratches are inevitable.

This painting also has some other attributes: did you notice that it was painted by a woman....and that in the National Gallery blurb about it, they make the point that painter Judith Leyster's work shows the influence of her teacher, one Frans Hals?

That may well be.  But over the years of doing this, I think I see an unconscious bias towards female artists wherein any description tends to emphasize influences rather than the artist's own style and talents.

I also note that on the museum web site we see that this painting is not currently on display.  Not on display?!  What's wrong with these dolts?  I'd be happy to hang it here by my computer and regard that tricky little kitty face lovingly every single day for the rest of my life.
[Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!]

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