Dating from 1819-1821, when the artist was in London, this previously unpublished sheet is one of a group of studies of cats which greatly inspired Gericault's contemporaries, particularly artists such as Coignet and Colin, G. Bazin, Thédore Gericault, Etude critique, documents et catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1997, VII, nos. 2366-68, illustrated. The series can be securely dated to G©ricault's period in London since one of the drawings, now in Bayonne, bears a tracing of two of the lithographs that the artist made in London: Horses going to the fair and The Flemish Farrier.
Gericault apparently travelled to England without any precise professional goals other than satisfying the current English taste for lithographs. Published in 1821 under the title Various subjects drawn from life and on stone, these lithographs represent the bulk of Géricault's production in London. Géricault took no studio and worked mostly from his rooms. In a letter to his friend Dedreux-Dorcy, the artist reveals, in contrast to the general tone of his letters, how his sombre mood had changed little since his departure from Paris: 'Je me m'amuse pas du tout, et même absolument celle que je même à Paris, travaillant beaucoup dans ma chambre et rôdant ensuite pour me dé lâsser dans les rues', C. Cément, Géricault, Paris, 1973, (2nd edition 1979), p. 193. On his walks through London, the artist was struck by the sheer misery of the London slums and the darkness of his compositions anticipate the tone of those of Gustave Doré. Despite the success of his exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, Gericault tried to commit suicide on several occasions.
Like Delacroix and Barye after him, Géricault visited London Zoo and drew several studies of wild animals, particularly lions. Long presumed to have been of a tiger, a sheet of studies at the Louvre was in fact made of a cat lying dead in the street, Bazin, op. cit, no. 2366. The present drawing is the original version from which a series of tracings and weaker replicas, now at Bayonne, were executed, Bazin, op. cit., nos. 2368 and 2368 A and B. A third tracing, possibly by Colin, of the two heads in the upper left corner was in a French private collection. Professor Lorenz Eitner has kindly confirmed the attribution, having seen the orriginal, in a letter dated 24 November 2000. Professor Eitner confirms the dating to Géricault's English period, and describes the sheet as a 'a work of high interest and splendid execution'.