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

Portrait of Master St. Pierre as a Young Boy

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Portrait of Master St. Pierre as a Young Boy
signed 'Mary Cassatt' (lower left)
pastel on paper laid down on canvas
30 ¼ x 23 ¼ in. (76.7 x 59 cm.)
Drawn circa 1906
M. de la Motte St. Pierre, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Mme de la Motte St. Pierre, Paris (by descent from the above).
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Paris (acquired from the above).
Lester Francis and Joan Grossman Avnet, New York (by 1965).
Acquired from Joan Avnet by the family of the present owners, 1973.
A.D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 106, no. 210 (illustrated; dated circa 1892).
Garden City, New York, Adelphi University, Swirbul Library, The Collectors' Collections, An Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures from the Private Collections of Joan and Lester Avnet, Wilfred P. Cohen, and Alfredo Valente, January-February 1968, no. 4 (titled Portrait of a Little Boy).
Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, Mary Cassatt Among the Impressionists, April-June 1969, p. 71, no. 20 (illustrated, p. 44).
The New York Cultural Center, A Selection of Drawings, Pastels and Watercolors from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lester Francis Avnet, December 1969-January 1970, no. 16 (illustrated on the frontispiece).

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Morgan Schoonhoven
Morgan Schoonhoven

Lot Essay

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

The present drawing is a richly executed work that displays Cassatt’s mastery of the pastel medium. Cassatt, accomplished in a range of media, was first introduced to pastel by Impressionist artist Edgar Degas. Cassatt met Degas shortly after he saw one of her paintings on display in the 1874 Salon. He reportedly remarked, “there is someone who feels as I do” (quoted in Degas and Cassatt, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2014, p. 2). A strong artistic relationship developed from there. It was when Cassatt experienced the great frustration of having her works rejected by the 1877 Salon that Degas, so impressed by her work up to that point, extended an invitation for her to join in the Fourth Impressionist exhibition that would be held in 1879. This was a career changing moment for Cassatt, marking “the most critical [decision] in establishing and ensuring her reputation among nineteenth-century avant-garde artists” (ibid., p. 3).
Pastel provided Cassatt the ability to capture the brilliancy of light and tone in quick, expressive strokes. As Harriet K. Stratis wrote: "perhaps pastel–often thought of as painting in the dry manner–provided Cassatt with the opportunity to explore...chromatic relationships with more immediacy than painting, which does not allow for the spontaneous execution she found so desirable...The wide range of newly available pastel colors and colored papers permitted Cassatt to bring the methods of the Old Masters up to date, while putting into practice the chromatic theories of her day" ("Innovation and Tradition in Mary Cassatt's Pastels, A Study of Her Methods and Materials," Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman, Chicago, 1999, p. 217).
During a trip to Italy and Spain with her close friends, the wealthy American collectors Louisine and Harry Havemeyer in 1901, Cassatt renewed her exposure to the Old Master painters and spurred stylistic changes that would be evident for the remainder of her career. As a result of this stylistic transformation, the first quarter of the twentieth century is considered by many to be the artist’s most successful period.
Drawn circa 1906, the present pastel embodies a sense of modernity and immediacy not present in the artist’s more studied oil portraits. It has been noted that by the mid-1890s, Cassatt “worked almost exclusively on supports in which paper was adhered to canvas and wrapped around a wooden strainer,” which allowed the artist to angle the support vertically on an easel, enabling her to “work with it much as one can work directly on canvas” (ibid., p. 219). Thick, velvety layers of blue pigment are built up to create the luscious textures of the young boy's shirt and pants. The ease and speed of pastel allowed the artist to capture a rare moment of stillness in the active life of such a young boy. Appearing to be about 4 or 5 years of age, this child would likely be filled with energetic curiosity for his surroundings, as demonstrated by his side long gaze, possibly fixed on his mother or nanny standing nearby, coaxing him to sit still.
This work was once in the esteemed collection of Joan and Lester Avnet. Lester was the founder of the electronics corporation, Avnet Inc., and with his wife Joan amassed a collection of close to 900 works, focused primarily on Old Master and Modern drawings. Formed between 1960 and Mr. Avnet’s death in 1970, a portion of the collection was donated to The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1978. The 180 works represented the largest bequest to the museum at the time.

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