The Boy with the Cat has not given up all its secrets. This male nude has no equivalent in Renoir's work. The identity of the model seen from the back cuddling the cat is unknown. His sly glance at the spectator remains mysterious. The scene does not seem to have any mythological reference.
Renoir painted it in 1868, a turning point for the artist who was still at the beginning of his career. After being refused that the Salons of 1866 and 1867, he had at last tasted success with a large female portrait in the open air, Lise with a Parasol, now in the Folkwang Museum, Essen. The second half of the 1860s was also the time of his comradeship with Bazille, Sisley and Monet. They were all deeply marked by the example of their glorious elders, Courbet and Manet, whose influence can be seen in the realistic treatment and the cold colour harmonies of The Boy with the Cat. The painting was bought in a public auction in 1992 and was a timely addition to the collections of the Musee d'Orsay, where Renoir's early years are poorly represented.