In Head of Sara in a Bonnet Looking Left, Mary Cassatt pushed the limits of the medium of pastel to create an exceptional work, combining bold execution with her most celebrated subject matter.
On viewing a selection of Cassatt's early renderings of children in 1881, a contemporary critic exclaimed "For the first time, thanks to Mlle. Cassatt, I have seen effigies of enchanting tots, calm and bourgeois scenes, painted with an utterly charming sort of delicate tenderness." (J.K. Huysmans, "L'Exposition des Indépendents en 1881," L'Arte Moderne, 1883, as quoted in N.M. Matthews, Cassatt: A Retrospective, New York, 1996, pp. 131-132)
Sara was a familiar and favorite child model for Cassatt in the years around the turn of the century. Executed in 1901, Head of Sara in a Bonnet Looking Left demonstrates Cassatt's mature pastel technique. As her career progressed and particularly after joining the Impressionist circle in Paris in 1877, Cassatt moved away from oil painting and began to focus on working with pastels. First using pastel as a sketching tool, it was not until she began working with the Impressionists that she produced finished works in the medium. In Head of Sara Looking Left, Cassatt used pastels in vibrating layers of color to express the warmth and vitality of the young girl's flesh. Her luminous, rosy cheeks evoke a sense not only of health and well being, but also of the innocence of youth. The work demonstrates one of Cassatt's favored techniques of carefully blending and stumping the pastel to create achieve gradations of tone in the face, while using looser strokes to evoke her body and her surroundings. Cassatt has captured the essence of the young Sara with remarkably few strokes, building up her subject with countless placed pastel lines and marks in "a masterpiece of simplicity." (N.M. Matthews, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1987, p. 2)
This work will be included in the Cassatt Committee's revision of Adelyn Dohme Breeskin's catalogue raisonné of the works of Mary Cassatt.