Watteau is known to have made around thirty drawings of animals, including these two studies, which were framed together. The attempt to achieve a true likeness in the poses is striking. It is possible that the leopard was drawn from life at Louis XIV's menagerie in Versailles, which was built by Le Vau between 1663 and 1670 at the far southern end where the Grand and Petit canals met.
The menagerie housed a number of rare species and was used by both naturalists and artists for research. This leopard may also have been inspired by the work of Brueghel the Elder or Rubens, both of whom were great animal painters and influenced many artists. However, in the work of these painters, big cats are depicted in violent scenes of hunts or combat, whereas Watteau portrays them in sensual, peaceful poses that were more in keeping with the sensibilities of his time. The artist's habit of depicting one subject in several poses can be seen in this study of a dog, which he used as a basis for his paintings. For example, one of the dogs found in this study is reproduced in a painting entitled Le Rendez-vous de chasse (The Meet, now held at the Wallace Collection in London).