In 2011, the National Gallery acquired Ivan Zajec’s small clay sculpture Girl with a Kitten, which joined his plaster Portrait of a Girl and a series of drawings of girls in his sketchbook that are already part of the gallery’s collection. Girls were clearly a subject the sculptor enjoyed portraying.
Ivan Zajec’s (1869–1952) oeuvre includes numerous small figurative works whose content marks them as genre sculptures. His favourite materials for these sculptures were plaster and fired clay. These works include the realist small clay Girl with a Kitten.
Zajec also sketched figures of girls in various poses in his sketchbook, which he filled out gradually. He portrayed girls with typical hairstyles – hair in ringlets, braids or hanging loose over shoulders or adorned with a bow – and dressed in children’s clothes, while seated and reading, standing, or absorbed in play. Several of the eleven playful and jovial figures are named after their models – Vilma, Ada, Elvira, Vida, etc. In some cases the face and hands are rendered in softer lines, while the falling folds of clothing are described with stronger pencil strokes; elsewhere the entire figure is drawn with strong contours.
The terracotta sculpture Girl with a Kitten is signed “Jean Zajec” at the back, which suggests that the work was created around 1906, when Zajec was living in Paris.