Lot 33
  • 33

Jan van Bijlert

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
110,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Jan van Bijlert
  • A young woman playing with a cat
  • oil on canvas


With Rafael Valls, London, 1988;
With Jean-Max Tassel, 1990.


P.H. Janssen, Jan van Bijlert, Amsterdam & Philadephia, 1998, p. 143, cat. no. 116, reproduced plate 69.

Catalogue Note

In this painting, whose sensuousness borders on the downright naughty, Bijlert takes evident delight in his subject's naked flesh and curvacious figure, contrasting the smooth texture of her skin with the soft fur of the kitten that she is caressing. 

As Janssens (see Literature) notes, this likely portrays a courtesan. She is seen in a state of deshabillé, with her hair decorated in fine jewels and feathers, her face heavily made-up, and plays with a cat, an animal that in both art and literature of the time had erotic connotations; its presence here brings to mind the Dutch expression de kat in het donker knijpen ('to pinch a cat in the dark'). Moreover, the word 'cat' was used as slang for a girl or a woman. The cat here takes the place of the more-commonly used lute, amongst the Utrecht Caravaggisti, to signify lust. In what is perhaps the most comparable work by Bijlert in Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, the sitter, and quite possibly the same model, is shown in the same pose but tuning a lute, the tuning of her instrument a metaphor for preparing for love.1

The pose, in which we see the girl with her back to us looking back over her shoulder, has been said to derive from Orazio Gentileschi's Sibyl from the early 1620s.2 There are in fact several possible references though, including the luteplayer in Hendrick ter Brugghen's Concert.3

Paul Huys Janssen dates the painting to circa 1630-35.

1. Janssen, under Literature, pp. 142–43, cat. no. 115, reproduced plate 68.
2. Houston, Museum of Fine Arts.
3. London, National Gallery.