The “Boy with a Cat” is a portrait of Jean Bourgoint by the English artist Christopher Wood (1901-1930). The two met in the artistic hurly-burly around Pablo Picasso while Wood was studying art at the Académie Julian in Paris. The corresponding blue of the boy’s and cat’s eyes suggests an association between their characteristics, and the theme of twinship – Jean was close to his sister Jeanne, with whom the bisexual Wood was infatuated (the siblings were the basis of Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles).
Praised by Gwen Raverat for his “fashionable clumsiness”, Wood chose a narrow canvas for “Boy with a Cat” that makes the sitter seem to be leaning offhandedly to the right. At the time of the painting, Bourgoint, who went on to become a Trappist monk, was 21, and Wood was 25, addicted to opium and suffering from paranoia. He was under the drug’s influence when he died four years later, under a train in Salisbury; his tombstone was designed by Eric Gill.
Most of Wood’s oil and graphite canvases open on harbour scenes and landscapes in Cornwall, Cumberland and Brittany, though he also painted numerous still lifes of flowers and in 1926 designed sets for Diaghilev’s Romeo and Juliet for the Ballets Russes, designs which were replaced with those by Joan Miró.
He went on to paint Jeanne Bourgoint as “Woman with Fox” (1928), and the two pictures are reunited in an exhibition of 25 of Wood’s works and objects (including his numberless playing cards) at Kettle’s Yard, in Cambridge, from July 6 to September 1.