On the Balcony (B. 120)
soft-ground etching in colors à la poupée, circa 1889, on D & C Blauw laid paper, a rich and experimental impression, Breeskin's second state (of three), with margins (deckle along three sides), minor surface soiling, a few pale scattered foxmarks, occasional soft handling creases, a few areas of stray colored ink in the margins, a few minute tears in places at the extreme margin edges, a small loss at the extreme lower right margin corner, hinge and glue remains along the reverse of the right margin edge and in places at the upper edge (showing through), otherwise in good condition
P. 11 x 8½ in. (279 x 216 mm.)
S. 14½ x 9 3/8 in. (368 x 239 mm.)
Alfred Beurdeley (L. 421)
Robert Hartshorne, New Jersey (L. 2215b)
By descent to the present owner.
A.D. Breeskin, The Graphic Work of Mary Cassatt, New York, 1979, cat. 120.

Lot Essay

This is among only a few impressions specially noted by Breeskin with unique color inking of the plate by the artist's hand (the author implies that other impressions were not in colors, though does not specify how many were printed). As one of Cassatt's early experiments with printing in colors, she chose the 'à la poupée' method in which ink is applied locally to areas of the plate before printing. This is a simpler and more direct approach than the multiple-plate system used for her later color aquatints, in which each ink color is printed from separate plates that must be carefully registered with each pass through the press.

There is also an oil painting of the same subject dated circa 1883 -- approximately six years earlier -- in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (Br. CR 125) and a preparatory drawing for this soft-ground dated circa 1883 as well (Br. CR 761). As Cassatt tended to approach the same subject in various media at around the same time, it is possible that this print was also completed within a few years of 1883. In the introduction to Breeskin's catalogue raisonné of the graphic work, the author allows that dating the prints was somewhat problematic due to Cassatt's lack of records (Breeskin, p. 31). Mathews also notes that 'it is hard to trace Cassatt's printmaking activity after 1880 since she did not show any prints in 1881 and 1886, her last two Impressionist exhibitions. Like Degas, she undoubtedly lost her momentum after the journal project Le jour et la nuit fell through, although with her own printing press at home she certainly continued on her own.' (Mathews and Shapiro, p. 33).

It is therefore possible that Cassatt attempted color printing even earlier than once thought, but put it aside for several years until inspired by the major exhibition of Japanese prints at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1890 to try her hand at it again. Whether completed in the early or late 1880s, the light effects and subtle coloring of On the Balcony make it a uniquely Impressionist image, and a rare example of a fully conceived color print by any artist's hand in this decade.

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