The most famous of all Degas' prints, Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery is regarded as a high point of the mid-nineteenth century etching revival in France. Unlike the very similar Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery which was probably intended for publication, Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery exists only in proof impressions which show the artist's fascination with printmaking techniques. Thirty-two impressions were included in the Atelier sale of 1918 including the current example.
As with The Etruscan Gallery, The Paintings Gallery relates closely to the pastel At the Louvre: Miss Cassatt (Lemoisne 581). This original consists of various joined sheets revealing Degas' preoccupation with the placement of figures. From a photograph and subsequent tracings of the figures, Degas arrived at the conjoined composite of Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia, which are reused in The Paintings Gallery. The striking element in the composition is not, however, just the placement of the figures but their relationship to the door-jamb to our left and the consequent overall patterning of the plate. This Japanese element of design adds strongly to the originality of the composition and the modernity of style which it conveys.
Of the 32 impressions recorded by Reed and Shapiro, 27 are in museums.