Conspicuous as ever, the ubiquitous cat posed for the painters of the century. The typical cats in art trying to steal fish or meat, or having a duel with a dog, were now accompanied by the cat’s presence in portraits, especially of children and/or ladies. In the 1713 Dutch Baroque painting, A Woman and a Fish Pedlar in a Kitchen by Willem Van Mieris (1662-1747), a cat sits at the bottom of the picture looking up at a dead duck as the woman and the peddler perhaps haggle over a price.
In the 1728 painting by Chardin, The Ray, we see the same sort of realism as in Van Mieris’ work, but here the cat is the sole actor on the canvas, greedily treading over oysters probably unable to decide where to start first. Chardin greatly impressed Diderot when he proclaimed that painting was done with emotions not just colors. “Who told you that one paints with colors? One makes use of colors, but one paints with emotions.” Even though painted with emotion, most of Chardin’s paintings relay peacefulness and profess no real message.
In another of his paintings, Still Life with Cat and Fish, painted the same year, the cat takes center stage again, surrounded by a veritable feast of fish.
In yet another fish themed painting we see a cat trying to sneakily grab an oyster.
The expression of expectation on the cat’s face in Partridge, Hare and Cat (1730) again shows the cat as the only living thing on the canvas, looking up, ready to steal the partridge which lies next to a dead hare.
In a different attitude, a cat sits patiently in the foreground of The Washerwoman, 1735, where a lone woman washes clothes, the cat a symbol of domesticity.