The Cat's Paw, c. 1824


In Jean de La Fontaine's seventeenth-century fable, which this painting illustrates, a cunning monkey persuades a cat to retrieve roasting chestnuts from a fire. The term "cat's paw," meaning a person unwittingly duped by another, derives from this tale. Numerous engraved and painted precedents for the brutality of Landseer's interpretation existed in the work of seventeenth-century Dutch and British illustrators of La Fontaine. The fabulist's symbolic use of animals to describe the tribulations of human existence became popular among nineteenth-century romantic painters and satirists.

The Cat's Paw
Artist Life
Accession Number
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email

Does something look wrong with this image? Let us know