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Judith Leyster, A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel

Key facts
Full title A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel
Artist Judith Leyster
Artist dates 1609 - 1660
Date made about 1635
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 59.4 × 48.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by C.F. Leach, 1943
Inventory number NG5417
Location Room 23
Collection Main Collection
A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel
Judith Leyster

'He who plays with cats gets scratched’ – in other words, he who looks for trouble will get it. This is an old Dutch motto that appears to be a possible source for Judith Leyster’s cheerful picture, and it’s been suggested that the painting was intended as both delightful entertainment and a warning.

In other Dutch morality pictures of the time, a little girl would have been expected to show a good example; this one has an older brother to lead her astray. She has a wicked twinkle in her eye and the fingers of her hand curl round the cat’s tail, ready to give it a tug. Leyster has captured the boy’s half-guilty, half-unashamed expression as he teases the cat – he seems to be testing just how far he can go.

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