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

Woman Wearing Bonnet

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Woman Wearing Bonnet
oil on canvas laid down on board
17 x 10¼ in. (43.2 x 26 cm.)
Painted circa 1889.
The artist.
Eugenia Cassatt Davis, by descent.
Mr. Albert E. McVitty, acquired from the above, 1939.
Parke-Bernet, New York, 15 December 1949.
Wildenstein & Co., New York.
Ralph Hines, New York, acquired from the above, circa 1953.
By descent to the present owner.
Brooklyn Museum, Leaders of American Impressionism: Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, John H. Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, exhibition catalogue, Brooklyn, New York, 1937, n.p., pl. II, illustrated (as Woman's Head).
Wildenstein & Co., A Loan Exhibition of Mary Cassatt, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1947, p. 36, no. 19 (as Woman Wearing a Bonnet).
A.D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors and Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 90, no. 160, illustrated.
National Gallery of Art, Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 26, no. 41, illustrated (as The Bonnet).
Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Museum of Art, Exhibition of Pastels, Water-Colors, Pencil Drawings, Soft-Ground Etchings, Aquatints, Color Prints, Dry-Prints, etc., by Mary Cassatt, January 7-February 10, 1936, no. 6.
Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Museum, Leaders of American Impressionism: Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, John H. Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, 1937, no. 27.
Haverford, Pennsylvania, Haverford College, Mary Cassatt, 1845-1926, May 13-June 10, 1939, no. 17 (as Head of Young Woman).
Trenton, New Jersey, New Jersey State Museum, Mary Cassatt, November 19-December 27, 1939, no. 5 (as Woman's Head).
Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Museum of Art, Mary Cassatt, November 28, 1941-January 11, 1942, no. 20 (as Woman's Head).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., A Loan Exhibition of Mary Cassatt, October 29-December 6, 1947, no. 19 (as Woman Wearing a Bonnet).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, September 27-November 8, 1970 (as The Bonnet).

Lot Essay

Mary Cassatt painted Woman Wearing Bonnet circa 1889 as she was moving away from the established schools in Paris and found her own, daring style. The subject of a young woman fascinated Cassatt and was one that she continually visited throughout her oeuvre. As Judith Barter notes, Cassatt's sources for her art were varied, "To devise compositional strategies for her depictions of women in public and private places, Cassatt looked not only to the traditions of society portraiture but also to illustrations in contemporary fashion magazines. She was not alone in this: her new colleagues, including Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Berthe Morisot, had earlier turned to these sources for thematic and compositional models." (Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman, Chicago, Illinois, 1998, pp. 47-48)

After struggling for almost a decade for recognition in the established Paris Salon, Mary Cassatt eagerly accepted Edgar Degas's invitation to join him in exhibiting her work with the other members of the Indpendents group in 1877. While they have become known as Impressionists, in the late nineteenth century, they "preferred to be called 'Independents'." (Mary Cassatt, New York, 1987, p. 37) The term is significant as it implies a forceful rejection of the traditional Parisian art world in favor of purely autonomous conduct. In fact, "Reminiscing thirty-five years after the fact, Cassatt still had strong feeling about the decision; in 1912 she told her biographer, Achille Segard, 'I accepted with joy. I hated conventional art. I began to live.' Clearly, she recalled the years of trying to find her way in the labyrinth art world of the 1870s, juggling the demands of her conservative American milieu, official taste, and her own independence, as a dark period, and she considered it the turning point of her life when, at the age of thirty-three she was given the opportunity to paint and exhibit freely." (Mary Cassatt, p. 37)

Woman Wearing Bonnet was painted ten years after Cassatt first showed with the French Impressionists in 1879 at their fourth exhibition. "If we look at the paintings and pastels of the early days of Cassatt's Impressionist affiliation," writes Nancy Matthews, "we can discern her efforts to achieve the new realism touted by the Impressionists...Most striking is Cassatt's interest in capturing life in its normal and unposed state....Although a simple concept, the naturalistic effect in art was hard won, requiring subtle adjustments of form and content and a concentrated effort to achieve the appearance of effortlessness." (Mary Cassatt, p. 43)

Woman Wearing Bonnet is representative of Cassatt's mature period in both theme and handling. The simplified background highlights the face of the woman. Cassatt has rendered the face with a high degree of finish and modeling whereas the remainder of the composition was executed with long, loose and freely applied brushstrokes. The control of her brushstrokes on the woman's face is juxtaposed by the spontaneity of her bonnet and the background in broad swaths of ivory, purple, blue, pink and maroon. This contrast between highly developed and sketchy areas was characteristic of Cassatt's works of the period and demonstrates a thoroughly modern approach to the bust-length portrait.

Cassatt is revered for her ability to express emotion, narrative and a personal intimacy in her portraiture, particularly in the private realm of women. In Woman Wearing Bonnet she captures her sitter in a moment of deep contemplation: the woman gazes downward to suggest solitude and despondency, yet allows Cassatt to quickly capture this personal moment and share it with the public. In André Mellerio's introduction to the catalogue of Cassatt's 1893 exhibition, he commented, "It has been rightly said that Miss Cassatt has never painted any women but those 'who have a serious soul.'" (as quoted in Mary Cassatt, p. 40) Nancy Mowll Mathews observes that Cassatt's "subjects [were] drawn from the world around [her] with an ironic eye, [and] displayed a fragile balance between the public and the private, discretion and indiscretion, beauty and ugliness. A rigid or uninformed viewer could easily be confused by the transient and shifting effects of this style and, with some justification, feel mocked by [this] sophisticated artist. However, Cassatt was intellectually nimble and prided herself on her own penetrating opinions on art and society. From her very first efforts to incorporate Impressionist devices into her work she was fascinated with the aesthetic power of a painting's successful balance of contradictory elements." (Mary Cassatt, p. 40)

Cassatt's artistic output changed dramatically as soon as she made the bold shift to Impressionism. Her works took on a more daring character and she developed her own unique style, infusing her gift of expressing the narrative, particularly from the female point of view, while mastering the Impressionist style of painting. The rich palette of Woman Wearing Bonnet and the vigorous brushstrokes, demonstrate Cassatt's sophistication and individuality within this movement. Cassatt's unique ability to capture fleeting yet poignant moments of everyday life established her as one of the leading painters of her day, her legacy a major influence on other female artists. It has been said of Mary Cassatt that she is not only the greatest woman artist of the nineteenth century, but that she is also "worthy of consideration as the most significant American artist, male or female, of her generation." (A.S. Harris and L. Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950, Los Angeles, California, 1976, p. 58)

This painting 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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