Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Mother Combing Sara's Hair (No. 1)

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Mother Combing Sara's Hair (No. 1)
signed 'MC.' (lower right)
pastel on paper laid down on canvas
18 ½ x 23 in. (47 x 58.4 cm.)
Executed in 1901.
The artist.
Payson T. Thompson, New York, acquired from the above.
American Art Association, New York, 12 January 1928, lot 87.
Brick Row Bookshop, acquired from the above.
Mary Williamson Averell (Mrs. Edward Henry) Harriman, New York, (probably) acquired from the above.
Rains Auction Rooms, New York, 17 April 1934, lot 71.
Charles Sessler Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Charles C.G. and Louise Catherwood Chaplin, Bryn Mawr and Haverford, Pennsylvania, circa 1946, acquired from the above.
Christie's, New York, 8 December 1978, lot 224.
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Coe Kerr Gallery, New York.
Private collection, acquired from the above, 1985.
By descent to the present owners.
"Auction Reports---Thompson Paintings," Art News, vol. 26, January 21, 1928, p. 9 (as 87).
A.D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings, Washington D.C., 1970, p. 149, no. 347, illustrated.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Newman Galleries, 1966.

Lot Essay

Mother Combing Sara’s Hair (No. 1) is a touching portrayal of a young girl’s tender bond with her mother and a superb example of Mary Cassatt's mature depictions of children. Executed in 1901, this work combines Cassatt’s renowned, expert handling of the pastel medium with her most celebrated subject matter. The theme of motherhood is a recurring and important subject in Cassatt’s oeuvre, and the present work demonstrates her ability to infuse such a scene with a quiet dignity and realistic sincerity.

After 1900, Cassatt tended to use the same models repeatedly, especially children from Mesnil-Theribus, Oise, the French village near her country home, Beaufresne, fifty miles northwest of Paris. In 1901, Cassatt began to frequently employ Sara, the young golden-haired girl depicted in the present work, who according to Adelyn Breeskin, was a granddaughter of one of the former presidents of the French Republic, Emile Loubet. (Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 150) The sweetness of Sara’s face, the ethereality of her features and her reportedly good-natured demeanor made her a favored model for Cassatt during these years. She was the subject of many of the artist’s works from the period, including both single and group portraits such as Sara in a Green Bonnet (circa 1901, The Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.) and In the Garden (circa 1903-04, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan).

Mother Combing Sara’s Hair (No. 1) demonstrates Cassatt's mature pastel technique. Cassatt uses pastels in vibrating layers of color to express the warmth and vitality of the young girl. Sara's luminous, rosy cheeks evoke a sense not only of health and well-being but also of the innocence of youth. Cassatt has captured the essence of the young Sara with remarkably few strokes, building up her subject with carefully placed pastel lines and marks in “a masterpiece of simplicity.” (N.M. Matthews, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1987, p. 2) The background is rendered in a modern fashion: broad strokes of a vivid orange sharply contrast with the neutral tones of the dark brown hair and fair-skinned neck of the mother, and a complementary, soft blue-aqua pigment recedes behind Sara. The judicious strokes of pastel capture an intimate scene with the appearance of spontaneity and effortless execution. For Cassatt, the connection between her sitters is an integral part of her compositions and in Mother Combing Sara’s Hair (No. 1), the artist brilliantly captures a tender moment between mother and daughter as well as Sara’s nature; her eyes gaze intently and she tilts her head slightly as if she has fixed her attention adoringly on her mother.

This pastel will be included in the Cassatt Committee's revision of Adelyn Dohme Breeskin's catalogue raisonné of the works of Mary Cassatt.

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