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A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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'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.

The National Gallery, London



A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel


about 1635


oil on oak


H 59.4 x W 48.8 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bequeathed by C.F. Leach, 1943

Work type



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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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