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Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Property from a Private Collection, Palm Beach, Florida
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Children Playing with a Dog

Details
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Children Playing with a Dog
signed 'Mary Cassatt' (lower center)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 28 ¾ in. (100 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1907
Provenance
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, January 1907).
J. Gardner Cassatt, Philadelphia; brother of the artist (acquired from the above, October 1907).
Eugenia Carter Cassatt, Philadelphia (by descent from the above).
Ellen Mary Cassatt Hare (Mrs. Horace Binney) Philadelphia (by descent from the above).
Charles W. Hare, Philadelphia (by descent from the above).
Ellen Mary Cassatt Hare Meigs, Berwyn, Pennsylvania (by descent from the above); Estate sale, Christie’s, New York, 24 May 2007, lot 54.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
Literature
"Miss Cassatt's 'Triumphs of Uncomeliness'" in The New York Times, 25 August 1907, p. 8 (illustrated; titled Baby and Dog).
L'Art est les Artistes, 6 October 1907, p. 356 (illustrated in color).
"L'Art et les Artistes" in La chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 11 April 1908, p. 138 (titled Enfant caressant un chien).
P.L. Hale, "Miss Cassatt's Works: Has Several Good Pictures at St. Botolph Club Exhibition" in Boston Herald, 8 February 1909, p. 7.
H. Monroe, "Notable American Salon at Pittsburgh" in Chicago Tribune, 30 May 1909, p. B5.
"Philadelphia Art Show" in New York Evening Post, 7 February 1912, p. 11.
"Art" in Nation, 22 February 1912, vol. 94, p. 196.
J.B. Townsend, "Pennsylvania Academy Exhibition (Final Notice)" in American Art News, 24 February 1912, vol. 10, p. 3 (titled Mother and Children).
A.D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1970, pp. 19 and 188, no. 502 (illustrated).
S.G. Lindsay, Mary Cassatt and Philadelphia, exh. cat., Philadelphia, 1985, pp. 92, 93 and 95 (no. 18).
J.A. Barter, ed., Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman, exh. cat., Chicago, 1998, pp. 359-360.
Exhibited
Boston, St. Botolph's Club, Pictures by Mary Cassatt, February 1909, no. 7 (titled Femme avec deux enfants).
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, One-hundred-seventh Annual Exhibition, February-March 1912, p. 461, no. 472 (titled Mother and Child).
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Representative Modern Masters, April-May 1920, p. 6, no. 17 (titled Woman with Two Children).
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, A Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mary Cassatt, March-April 1928, no. 18 or 19 (titled Mother and Two Children).
Haverford College, Mary Cassatt, May-June 1939, no. 6 (titled Mother and Two Children).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Homer, Eakins, Cassatt, June-September 1953, no. 55 (titled Mother and Two Children).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mary Cassatt, April-May 1960 (titled Mother and Two Children).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., The Paintings of Mary Cassatt: A Benefit Exhibition for the Development of the National Collection of Fine Arts, February 1966, no. 40 (illustrated; titled Mother (Jeanne) Looking Down at Her Two Children Petting a Dog).

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Max Carter

Lot Essay

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

An exceptional example of Mary Cassatt’s famed depictions of motherhood, Children Playing with a Dog presents the unconditional love and complex relationship between a mother and her two children with both psychological and stylistic finesse. While the Madonna and child has a long historical precedent, Cassatt transformed the subject into her own signature theme. Employing the Impressionist style she developed alongside her close friend Edgar Degas, she evades the overly sentimental and rather represents familial intimacy with modern flair. A truly multifaceted composition incorporating some of the artist’s favorite models, possibly one of her own beloved dogs and a developed background with a window onto the French countryside, Children Playing with a Dog is a tour de force of Cassatt’s most renowned subject.
Born in Pennsylvania, Cassatt enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861 and quickly proved to be a promising student. She set sail for France at her earliest opportunity in 1866, where she was granted quick acceptance into Parisian art circles. Bolstered by her first public success at the Salon of 1868, she decided to remain and pursue her career abroad. At the Salon of 1874, her work caught the eye of Edgar Degas, who invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists. Cassatt enthusiastically agreed, writing, "I accepted with joy…At last I was able to work with an absolute independence without thinking about the opinion of a jury. Already I knew who were my true masters! I admired Manet, Courbet and Degas. I hated conventional art. I began to live" (as quoted in M.R. Witzling, Mary Cassatt: A Private World, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 11).
The only American to exhibit with the Impressionists, Cassatt’s compositions became increasingly reflective of the group’s tenets as she emphasized the effects of light and atmosphere, spontaneous and broken brushstrokes, a brighter palette and a focus on contemporary everyday life. While her work in the 1870s reflected the experience of a modern woman out in Parisian society, in the 1880s her emphasis began to shift from the public to the private sphere. When her paintings of mothers and children first debuted at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition, they immediately met with great acclaim, and the maternité theme remains today her most celebrated subject. As Nancy M. Mathews wrote in the catalogue for the recent Cassatt exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André, “There is no question that Cassatt’s adoption of the mother-and-child subject, with its echoes of past traditions and yet up-to-the-minute series work, elevated Cassatt’s style and was responsible for her lasting fame as an artist” (Mary Cassatt: An American Impressionist in Paris, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2018, p. 90).
A particularly compelling and complex example of her signature subject, Children Playing with a Dog is one of only about a dozen oil paintings by the artist that includes two children with their mother, rather than just one. As the older sister pets the family dog, she lovingly mirrors the mother’s affectionate hold on the baby, visualizing the concept of “playing mother” and reflecting the nuanced relationships within a modern family. The affected maturity in the young girl’s loving gaze is simultaneously endearing and a vehicle for social commentary. "To some extent Cassatt's exploration of the child--not the baby--in adult costume, pose and expression reflects aspects of early-twentieth-century psychology, absorbed by Cassatt in her wide reading of sociological, psychological, and parapsychological literature." Thus, the active parenting through example seen within the present work "can be read as suggesting women's responsibility for the improvement of their children and, by implication, for the improvement of society itself" (N.M. Mathews, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1987, p. 125).
Indeed, during the 1900s Cassatt took great care in deliberately assembling her compositions to represent her desired situation and underlying message. Her maternal paintings are not casual observations or portraits, but rather studio scenes cast with women and children from the village near her country home Beaufresne. In Children Playing with a Dog, the artist populates her dynamic family arrangement with two of her favorite models: Jeanne as the mother and Sara as her young, golden-haired daughter. According to Adelyn Breeskin, Sara was said to have been a granddaughter of French Republic President Emile Loubet. Sara, Jeanne and the baby apparently formed an ideal trio for Cassatt, as she also painted them together in Mother and Two Children (1906, Private collection) and Mother Looking Down, Embracing Both of Her Children (1908, The White House, Washington, D.C.).
In Children Playing with a Dog, Cassatt positions her three figures and the dog in a pyramidal arrangement, setting the models further back in the picture plane to permit a grander use of space and proportion. The broader perspective also allows for the rare inclusion of a window in the background, an architectural and landscape element adding spatial depth within the composed interior scene. Cassatt also demonstrates a notable interest in the details of the textiles and fashionable garments. For example, the lower portions of the elaborate gowns are composed of long, vertical brushstrokes, while the blousy upper elements are constructed with short, thick, diagonal strokes. The silk of the dresses is then expertly layered with the lush velvet of the foot stool, the dog's bristly coat and the woolen blanket, so that each texture acts as a foil to enhance the quality of the others. Cassatt also uses a thick build-up of short delicate strokes in the baby's body and other figures' faces to capture their creamy and luminescent texture. These differences in technique help further guide the viewer’s eye through the many elements of the composition.
Employing this nuanced, Impressionist approach to painting, both in execution and intellectual expression, Children Playing with a Dog draws on centuries of art historical precedent to transform the traditional and familiar subject of maternity into a reflection on the modern era in which the artist lived. Mathews writes of the lasting importance of this most famous series of Cassatt’s body of work, “As common a theme as it was throughout the history of art, she was considered to have brought to it a unique individuality, and indeed, today…she has outlasted the other mother-and-child specialists around her” (N.M. Mathews, Mary Cassatt: An American Impressionist in Paris, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2018, p. 92).

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