Young Boy With Cat

7:00 AM

Young Boy With Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1868

After browsing through many of Renoir’s works, I originally thought this piece had been attributed to him by mistake. By far the strangest looking piece I have seen, especially by him, it resembles none of his previous works, yet tells the most about the artist. It is striking, glowing with purity and beauty while the highly sexualized scene is diffused by the presence of the lone feline.

The sexuality of this piece reaches out and grabs your attention, his posture and gaze almost trap the viewer. It’s refreshingly intense. In the Baroque style, the similarities between Young Boy with Cat and Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit are striking. The highly-eroticised figure bears a basket of fruit while fixating on the viewer with the same mischievous stare. The tension in the stance, the lighting on the body, so similar to the provocative nature of Caravaggio’s boy displaying his bare shoulders. For an “Impressionist” painting, this piece is painted in great detail, especially the pattern of the sheet is incredibly fine and skillful, demonstrating a disciplined stroke.

The lewd tension in this piece is inescapable, but what does the cat in his arms suggest? Looking to other pieces, cats are symbolic of piety and cleanliness, often times the presence of nature and mystery. The pale, stylistic affectation of the boy comes from Renoir sharing a studio with Frederic Bazille, and his obsession with Edouard Manet. The diverse masculinity found in Renoir’s other works is absent here, giving a glimpse into Renoir’s private life with Bazille, that privacy embodied by the cat. Shortly after this piece emerged, Renoir was forced to become a more serious artist after the birth of his first child, leaving this piece - and its meaning - in his past.

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