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.