The Cat’s Lunch is a Rococo-style painting by the French painter Marguerite Gerard. Gerard is considered to be one of the most successful female painters in France with almost 400 paintings completed under her brush.
Le déjeuner du chat, which in English translates to “The Cat’s Lunch” and is a bizarre painting. We use the term “bizarre” not for the style of the painting, but for the scene it shows.
The beautiful Rococo style of painting that borrows the softness and elegance from the Baroque style is usually used to depict magnificent scenes.
For example, The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio or Pietà by Carracci. These paintings depict grand Biblical scenes that ignite imagination and show something we can never see in real life.
Then there is “The Cat’s Lunch” which shows a woman feeding a disgruntled cat while a small dog watches it. That’s all there is. So what’s going on?
The Magnificence in Simplicity
Gerard chose to combine the two opposite parts of the spectrum. A magnificent scene arising from simple settings. “The Cat’s Lunch” is not the only painting with such settings.
If you take a look at all the other words by the painter, she has a knack for depicting daily, indoor household scenes through the medium of beautiful color and structure.
Cats and dogs have frequently made an appearance in almost all of her paintings. But this painting is different. Instead of treating cats and dogs as elements of the painting, here they are subjects.
The Cat as the Queen
From the Egyptians treating cats as Gods to the modern-day cat that behaves more like an owner of the house than a member, our society has understood and acknowledged “cat supremacy.”
With a mental age of 40, cats are usually reclusive, irritable, and do not like to be bothered much. These qualities of a cat are the things Gerard wanted to show but in a very subtle and smooth way.
The best way to depict that was this scene; a woman bending on her knees as if she is greeting a queen, offering cream to the cat who sits on a red Ottoman stool that looks more like a throne.
Even though the cat is being fed in the most royal and pampered way (and the dog watches it with jealousy) the cat is still not happy. You can see the expression of anger and irritation on its face. It screams “I am not satisfied.”
Structure and Colors in the Painting
A lot of the storytelling in this painting (and almost all great paintings) is done through the structure and the colors used. While it may be having its effect on the viewers, sometimes it is difficult to figure out how the structure is having the effect.
First, let’s focus on the cat. The reason why we feel cats are in a superior place is not just because of the obvious treatment it is getting, but also how it has been depicted.
The red “throne” on which it sits, with its royal red color and the composed and poised posture of the cat, shows royalty.
But notice the green piece of cloth that is not related to the cat but the way it has been kept and the contrast it creates with the red stool makes it look like the cat’s robe.
It looks as if the cat has just entered its palace, dropped the large robe it was wearing, and now is being treated by everyone. And yet it is not happy. It wants more. All the typical behavior of a powerful queen.
Even with this behavior, the cat gets whatever it wants, while the dog looks at it with jealousy. This simple scene is presented in such a beautiful way that it is bound to capture your attention.
The other thing that makes this painting work is obviously their skills of Gerard and her attention to detail. From the creases of the dress the woman is wearing to the reflections on the bowl, everything is done so well.
The magnificent management of light that brings shine to the garment creates another great effect on the painting.
There are no hidden meanings in this painting. That does not mean there is no meaning to it. Gerard wanted to show how simple scenes inside a simple house with just a cat and a dog can be used to create interesting paintings.
Magnificence does not have to be in some grand setting. Gerard showed that just a woman, a cat, and a dog sitting in a small room with barely any furniture can be used to create a beautiful scene with so much meaning packed into it.
Read More: The Bizarre painting of Supper in Dresden