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Cats and Kittens, c. 1872—83

American 19th Century

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch

oil on millboard

The watchful calico and two kittens in this painting are bristling with individual character. The mother stares defiantly at the viewer, one of her kittens timidly reclining by her side, the other mischievously enmeshed in a tangle of yarn. Texture and color play equally important roles in this scene, such that the felines’ finely painted fur begs to be touched, and the mother’s commanding gaze (enhanced by the use of gold leaf on her eyes) is difficult to ignore. Not much is known about the anonymous artist who painted this work, apart from speculation that he might have been a professional decorative painter, judging from the floral wallpaper in the background.