Christie's has the great honor to present the historically significant Hartshorne collection of prints and related drawings by Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926). Beginning with her second etching, Costume Study after Gavarni, circa 1879, through her famed color drypoint and aquatints of the 1890s, to one of her last plates, Woman Posed with Hand at Back of Head, completed around 1910, this collection reveals Mr. Hartshorne's dedication to compiling a nearly complete collection of Cassatt's printmaking activity. Primarily comprised of rare proof impressions with supplemental preparatory sketches and transfer drawings, the collection provides an extraordinarily comprehensive and intimate revelation of the artist's experimental approach to intaglio printmaking.
Hartshorne, who was from a prominent New Jersey family, amassed a distinguished and notable collection of prints, books, maps, and Americana in his lifetime. He was known for his discernment and purchased a number of the finest works by Callot, Cezanne, Degas, Delacroix, Forain, Matisse, Picasso, Whistler, and others. However, the Cassatt collection is particularly distinguished for its breadth and historical value. Many impressions were once in Edgar Degas's personal collection, found in his studio after his death. Others are from the collections of Alfred Beurdeley (1847 - 1920), the Parisian dealer and prolific collector, and still others from the collection of Roger Marx (1859 - 1913), the influential Directeur de l'Administration des Beaux-Arts, scholar, critic, collector and champion of Impressionism and Art Nouveau.
Hartshorne's collection of Cassatt's prints must have been nearly comprehensive at the time of his death, around 1945. A sale of selected properties from his print collection at Parke-Bernet on January 23, 19461 included a total of 54 Cassatt lots, similar in nature to those offered here. The present sale reveals a previously unknown depth to the Hartshorne collection and an outstanding insight into the mind of one of history's great printmakers. Christie's is privileged to be the venue for this historic event.
Mary Cassatt's Printmaking
For Cassatt, printmaking was a uniquely challenging forum in which to experiment and refine her artistic vision. The demands of intaglio printmaking -- among the most difficult and technical of all art forms -- perfectly matched her independent and pioneering temperament. As noted by prominent Cassatt scholar Nancy Mowll Mathews, the artist's prints are a testament to 'the struggle, perseverance, and plain hard work that were part of her creative process.'2 They reveal a great creative mind that was willing to extend and push the medium to its greatest possible effect. In both ambition and approach, her intaglios are an extraordinary breakthrough in the history of prints.
Her achievement is particularly impressive considering the fact that Cassatt made her first prints in mid-life, when she was already an accomplished painter in Paris. Though she was surrounded by printmakers during her training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, evidence suggests that she took little interest in the medium until her close friend Edgar Degas insisted that she try it as a means to refine and perfect her draftsmanship. In fact, Cassatt's first burst of printmaking activity in the late 1870s was in preparation for the first portfolio of Degas's unrealized fine print periodical Le jour et la nuit, also meant to include prints by Caillebotte, Braquemond, Forain, Pissarro and others. Degas failed to see the journal through to publication, but this initial disappointment did not dampen Cassatt's interest in the medium.
For the most part, Cassatt considered her printmaking activity to be a discipline for artistic growth rather than a commercial enterprise. This is an attitude she shared with Degas, who only published two prints for wide distribution in his lifetime.3 She printed most of her plates herself, with the possible exception of the suite of twelve drypoints and twelve aquatints for her exhibition at Durand-Ruel Gallery in 18904 (see lots 45 - 51) and the known exception of her color prints of the 1890s5 (see lots 54 - 56). Otherwise, most images were printed in only a few impressions.
As revealed here, Cassatt used a number of intaglio techniques6 throughout her career, beginning with line etching and soft-ground, among the most accessible, leading into drypoint and aquatint, the least forgiving and most challenging. From Degas, she learned to sketch out her compositions beforehand and then transfer them to the plate using the soft-ground method. At first, she favored this as a primary method, but later it became an initial step for more technical plates (see lots 34-35). She began working in drypoint around 1882 (see lot 26). Of this medium she famously stated, "That is what teaches one to draw."7
In the 1890s, inspired by the influential exhibition of Japanese prints at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts,8 Cassatt determined to make her famous series of color drypoint and aquatints. The rigorous requirements for proper execution of this technique were beyond her abilities, so she enlisted the help of a printer, M. Leroy. Their famous collaboration on the color images, each of which required several proofs (see lots 54 - 56), is now counted as one of the major contributions to the history of prints.9
Printmaking remained integral to Cassatt's artistic practice and she continued to work in the medium until her eyesight no longer allowed it, around 1910.10 Throughout her career she displayed her prints alongside her other work, and they informed her overall development as an artist in both technique and subject matter. In this she joined her fellow Impressionists in resituating printmaking as an important creative endeavor to be considered a worthy pursuit in its own right and an inseparable aspect of an artist's oeuvre.
1. Books, Americana, maps, and furniture were sold October 29-30, 1945, also at Parke-Bernet.
2. Nancy Mowll Mathews and Barbara Shapiro. Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints, New York: Harry N. Abrams, and Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, 1989, p. 21.
3. Ironically, they were meant for Le jour et la nuit and Cassatt was the subject for both: Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery and Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery, both 1879-80. It is surmised they were printed in an edition of about 50 (see Sue Welsh Reed and Barbara Stern Shapiro, Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984, pp. 168-97).
4. It is unknown whether she printed the edition herself or whether Durand-Ruel paid a master printer. See Mathews and Shapiro, pp. 61-62. 5. Her collaboration on the color drypoint and aquatints with master intaglio printer Leroy is well documented and was openly acknowledged by Cassatt upon publication (see Mathews and Shapiro, pp. 69-71).
6. See glossary for explanation of printmaking terms.
7. As reported in 1913 by Achille Segard, her first biographer. See A.D. Breeskin, The Graphic Work of Mary Cassatt, New York, 1979, p. 14 and Mathews and Shapiro, p. 27.
8. For further detail on the impact of this exhibition, see Colta Feller Ives. The Great Wave: The Influence of Japanese Woodcuts on French Prints, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974.
9. Please see Mathews and Shapiro for a complete discussion.
10. Cassatt was probably legally blind by 1918. See Breeskin, p. 26.