This work will be included in the Cassatt Committee's revision of Adelyn Dohme Breeskin's catalogue raisonné of the works by Mary Cassatt.
Portraits of women with children, sensitive depictions and celebrations of maternity and the fleeting moments of babyhood, are amongst the most celebrated works in Mary Cassatt's oeuvre. In the present pastel, Mathilde holds the baby in a gesture of protection, her eyes watchful and vigilant as the toddler reaches to the right in a gesture of burgeoning independence. As Griselda Pollock has noted, '[Cassatt's] figure compositions discover both the tension in, and the pleasure of, interactions between children and adults who are emotionally bonded, while being at radically different moments of psychological development and life-cycle' (in exh. cat., Mary Cassatt, Painter of Modern Women, New York, 1998, p. 16).
Working closely with Edgar Degas, Cassatt developed a complete mastery over the medium of pastel, which she considered 'the most satisfactory medium for [portraying] children' (Cassatt, 1898, quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., p. 221). Indeed the velvety texture of the medium was suited to depicting skin tones and to the act of touching, which is of such significance in the present work, whilst it also held the practical advantage of rapid execution when her young sitters could not be trusted to stay still for long.
Of particular note in the present work are these flesh tones. As Harriet K. Stratis has pointed out, 'the most unusual element of Cassatt's pastel technique was to become her standard practice by the later 1880s: her manner of establishing light and shadow in the flesh of her sitters by using shades of green (and sometimes blue) pastel over and under stumped passages of white, pink, and peach pastel...the facial skin tones of Cassatt's women with children may have been inspired by the pale-green features of the Madonnas of thirteenth-century Italian masters such as Giotto, Duccio and their followers' (ibid., pp. 216-217).