Audio: Mary Cassatt's Mathilde Holding Baby who Reaches out to Right
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
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Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Mathilde Holding Baby who Reaches out to Right

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Mathilde Holding Baby who Reaches out to Right
signed 'Mary Cassatt' (lower right)
pastel on paper
28 5/8 x 23¾ in. (72.7 x 60.4 cm.)
Executed circa 1889
Dr. Paulin, a gift from the artist in 1890.
Paulin-Nijhoff; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 22 May 1919, lot 38.
Durand-Ruel, Paris (no. 11514), by whom acquired at the above sale.
Durand-Ruel, New York (no. 4441), by whom acquired from the above in April 1920.
Private collection, Switzerland, by whom acquired from the above in 1948.
International Galleries, Chicago, by whom acquired from the above.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1964.
A. Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt, A Catalogue Raisonné, Washington D.C., 1970, no. 187 (illustrated p. 98).
Chicago, The Art Institute, Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman, October 1998 - January 1999, no. 51 (illustrated p. 272).
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Cornelia Svedman
Cornelia Svedman

Lot Essay

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).

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