This little girl, who has not been identified, has been posed by the artist, and the kitten by the girl. A cat is sometimes included in portraits of children as a symbol of the wildness of nature intruding upon the innocence of childhood.
The picture is probably a portrait, albeit an idealised one, rather than a genre scene. Although it bears the artist’s signature and the date 1745, some question whether A Girl with a Kitten is indeed by Perronneau. The pigments in the pastels, the canvas and the paper are all consistent with a work produced in the eighteenth century, yet the draughtsmanship and sense of anatomy seem unusually poor for Perronneau at this stage of his career. However, some skilled parts are consistent with his technique and the signature is of the same date as the rest of the image.
Despite these uncertainties, this remains one of the most popular pastels in our collection.
It is likely that this pastel is a portrait, although an idealised one, rather than a genre scene. Perronneau portrayed identified women and children holding pet animals during the later 1740s. Two closely related examples are his Portrait of Marie-Anne Huquier holding a Kitten (Musée du Louvre, Paris) of 1747 and his supposed portrait Mme Pinceloup de la Grange holding a Cat (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) of 1748.
Although it bears the artist’s signature and the date 1745, some have questioned whether A Girl with a Kitten is indeed by Perronneau. The pigments in the pastels, the canvas and the paper are all consistent with a work produced in the eighteenth century. However, given that Perronneau had in 1734 won the first prize for drawing after the model at the Académie, it is difficult to explain the poor draughtsmanship of this work at this stage of his career. The face is drawn with the stump of the pastel and not with its point, as was usual for the artist; the picture lacks the usual white highlights found on the face in Perronneau’s other pastel portraits; there is no bone structure to the head or the chest and the anatomy is poorly drawn. The picture’s most obvious weakness is its blandness – the sitter lacks the sense of real presence in a typical pastel portrait by Perronneau.
The signature on the portrait is dubious when compared to Perronneau’s signature on his other works, and the date would make this his earliest-known dated pastel. Indeed, but for the ‘signature’, this picture might never have been attributed to Perronneau, so untypical is it overall of his style. There are, however, some skilled passages consistent with his technique, and the signature is of the same date as the rest of the image. The various changes in the underdrawing all seem to be by the same artist, and there is no evidence of any reworking of the pastel by a later artist.
Despite the uncertainties about who made it, A Girl with a Kitten remains one of the most popular pastels in the National Gallery’s collection.
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