Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
PROPERTY FROM A CALIFORNIA ESTATE Hidden for many decades in a discreet private collection, the following paintings, ranging from a poetic plein-air Corot landscape to a vigorous and richly-worked Cassatt pastel, together with a further group of works to be offered in the Impressionist and Modern day sale on 4 November, offer a fascinating insight into art collecting in the United States in the mid-20th century. Early French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism are represented by fine examples from major figures of each movement, while it seems fitting that Cassatt, an American artist who did so much to influence taste in her own country at the turn of the last century, takes her place alongside these masters. Few political and financial environments in the 1870s were more turbulent than France, yet in the midst of such drama the Impressionist movement enjoyed its greatest moment. Three works in the collection, Sisley's Une rue à Marly (lot 73) of 1876, Renoir's Adrienne (lot 69) of 1878 and Pissarro's Pruniers en fleur, Pontoise (Day Sale lot 423) of circa 1876, belong to this crucial period, each representing different formal aspects of this revolutionary style of painting while sharing the quintessential Impressionist attribute of light. The Sisley takes as its subject the day-to-day traffic of a small town in the Isle-de-France on the outskirts of the rapidly expanding capital city, deliberately avoiding a traditionally picturesque motif and instead exploring the atmospheric effects of a clear, autumnal day. Renoir's Adrienne, meanwhile, offers us what appears at first glance a portrait of a fashionable, carefree Parisienne; however, the artist's straitened financial circumstances at this time meant the sitter was most likely a working-class girl from Montmartre dressed in her Sunday finery, perhaps painted in the garden of Renoir's studio at the rue Cortot. Away from Paris, the French countryside continued to hold an abiding significance for certain members of the Impressionist group, chief among them Pissarro. The almost-spiritual qualities he found in la France profonde were a favorite subject and in Pruniers en fleur, Pontoise we see springtime blossoms signaling the hopeful beginning of nature's yearly cycle. Christie's is delighted to offer today's collectors the opportunity to acquire a work of art from this collection.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Mother in Purple Holding her Child

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Mother in Purple Holding her Child
signed 'Mary Cassatt' (lower left)
pastel on buff paper laid down on board
28¼ x 22¼ in. (71.8 x 56.5 cm.)
Drawn circa 1914
Galerie Paul Pétridès, Paris.
Wally Findlay Galleries, New York.
Acquired from the above by the family of the late owner, 1962.
A.D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors and Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 215, no. 603 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

By the first decade of the 20th century, depictions of the simple, daily interactions between mothers and their children had become Cassatt's signature subject. While her work in the 1870s had reflected her interest in the experience of modern women in Parisian society, her emphasis began to shift in the 1880s from the public to the private areas of women's lives. Her focus on gesture, facial expression, and the exchange of gazes allowed her to capture the psychological nuances that characterize family relationships, while avoiding the sentimentality and cliché that still characterized most images of maternity at the Paris Salon. In the present pastel, for instance, a mother gazes tenderly at her toddler, her hand resting gently on the child's forearm. The mother's profile and left side of the child's head form parallel, nesting curves that allude to the intimate bond between the two; at the same time, the child shifts her gaze away from her mother, suggesting a toddler's burgeoning independence. Griselda Pollock has written, "[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" (Mary Cassatt, Painter of Modern Women, New York, 1998, p. 16).

Although Cassatt's interest in the theme of maternity was motivated in part by her interest in the Old Masters and by demands of clients and dealers, it also reflects her advocacy of the women's suffrage movement and her belief in the important societal role that women played through their child-rearing duties. Her approach to the theme was informed as well by new concepts of childhood and parenting that emerged in the later nineteenth century. Judith Barter has explained, "Even more compelling for Cassatt than children per se was their care and the emotional and physical involvement with adults this entailed. Cassatt's compositions of 1880 and after--depicting children being bathed, dressed, being read to or held, nursing, and napping--reflect the most advanced ideas about the importance of maternity and the raising of children" (Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 1998, p. 73).

The present pastel, dated circa 1914, is among the very last pictures that Cassatt made. In December 1910, she had undertaken a two-month journey up the Nile with her brother Gardner and his family. Her brother fell ill and died in Paris in April 1911; overwhelmed by loss and exhausted by the rigors of the expedition, Cassatt stopped working entirely until 1913. After her recovery, there was a brief period of less than two years in which she worked once more, before failing eyesight forced her to give up her art permanently. Despite her waning strength, Cassatt's final pastels garnered great praise. H.O. and Louisine Havemeyer, the celebrated collectors of Impressionist art, acquired two examples (Breeskin, nos. 599-600; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), as did the Texas railroad tycoon James Stillman (Breeskin, nos. 593-594; Private collection and Westmoreland County Museum of Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania). Cassatt herself was confident that her latest work was her strongest, writing to Louisine Havemeyer about seven pastels that she delivered to Durand-Ruel in December 1913, "They were in many respects the best that I have done, more freely handled and more brilliant in color" (quoted in E.J. Bullard, Mary Cassatt, Oils and Pastels, New York, 1972, p. 84).

Like Degas, Cassatt worked in her late years exclusively in pastel, which required less physical strength than oil painting. Her final pastels are distinguished by ever brighter colors (such as the vivid blue of the mother's dress in the present example) and by slashing, swiftly applied strokes. She also considered the medium of pastel particularly appropriate for the depiction of children, the sole subject of her last works. In 1898, during a trip to the United States in which she produced several pastel portraits on commission, she commented to Harris Whittemore that pastel was "the most satisfactory medium for [portraying] children" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Chicago, 1998, p. 221). Harriet Stratis has written, "It may have been the velvety and tactile qualities of medium that led her to associate its use with the depiction of youth. The spontaneity that pastel allowed was surely an advantage when drawing children who could or would not sit still for long periods of time. Furthermore the subjects of many of these works are engaged in the act of touching; the gentleness of a caress was perhaps best conveyed with the softest of media" (ibid., p. 221).

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