Boy with Cat (Jean Bourgoint)

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License of this image: CC-BY-SA
License of original image: Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge - Public Domain

By: Christopher Wood (1901-1930)
Created: 1926, Collection: Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK Rights: Public Domain

This animal reflects the sitter's character- con you convey the common qualities between you and your pet?

It is likely that Christopher Wood painted this portrait in 1926, having come to know Jean Bourgoint and his sister Jeanne during the previous year. The Bourgoints were prominent figures in the Parisian circle of poet Jean Cocteau, and were said to be the models for his novel of sibling love and destruction Les Enfants Terribles. Wood formed a special attachment to Jeanne, with whom he had a brief and tempestuous relationship and whom he considered “the ideal female model for me”. As well as a series of drawings of both Bourgoints, he made this portrait and one of Jeanne now in the collection of the University of Essex, Colchester.

In both paintings Wood chose to include an animal whose nature is meant to reflect some aspect of the sitter, in this case a cat. Traditionally cats have symbolised fickleness and promiscuity, and the artist must surely have been aware of this. Given Jean’s liberated attitude, the spiky Siamese introduces something of the sexuality of the fey youths of Cocteau’s circle, an identification which is further signalled by the coincident blue of the eyes of sitter and pet.