While the genre of still life painting dates back to ancient times, it had emerged as a specialty by the late sixteenth century. Still lifes depicted mostly inanimate objects and could include natural things such as fruit, flowers or animal trophies, as well as man-made objects such as vessels or books. While it is not known if this firescreen with cat and canary is copying an actual painting, the inclusion of cats in the genre of still life painting became quite prevalent from the seventeenth century on. Most frequently the cat is shown toying with a dead catch of fish, whether just being inquisitive or in the process of having lunch.
Most of the early still life paintings contained a moralistic message which was frequently about the fleeting nature of life. This appears to be the theme applied here. The overall scene displays bounty, fruitfulness and youth. The abundance of fruit displayed is plump and ripe; the various cut flowers are fresh and either in bud or full bloom. The parrot and cat appear vivacious, groomed and well fed. There is no sign of wilt or decay or aging. And to all concerned, be it the home owner, the parrot or the cat, life is good. It's a different story if one happens to be the little yellow bird, where all is not well. As there are two living entities in the print, the parrot and the cat, the fact that the parrot is helping himself to a juicy cherry, is possibly suggesting a similar fate for the cat’s trophy.
Firescreens and overdoors were of a similar format and followed in the nature of paintings or scenic wallpapers in that they did not have a repeat. Firescreens of the paper variety were used to cover the fireplace when nothing was burning to make it more decorative, while overdoors filled the space between the top of the door frame and the ceiling. This firescreen was woodblock-printed in about twenty-eight colors on a deep taupe ground. Four sheets of handmade paper were pasted together to form the support.