Mary Cassatt
(Allegheny, 1845-1926, Mesnil-Théribus)
Mother and Child, 1893
Pastel, 55 x 46 cm
Signed lower left: Mary Cassatt
Breeskin 226
The fact that Mary Cassatt, the daughter of an American banker, succeeded in securing a leading position among the French Impressionists, with whom she began to exhibit in 1879, is all the more remarkable as she was by no means averse to the seductions of her privileged social position. She owes this unusual fame, which outlasted her death, not only to her high gifts but also to her strong character. She never excluded herself from the cool criticism to which she subjected the work of others. In this she was quite similar to her friend and mentor among the Impressionists, Edgar Degas. She shared with Degas an enthusiasm for the Japanese coloured woodcut, which she got to know with him especially at the exhibition of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1890, and which inspired her to create a sequence of ten colour etchings.
The work of Degas and the Japanese woodcut are also decisive influences on the pastel picture "Mother and Child", done in 1893. The very choice of the pastel as a medium points to Degas, as does her free treatment of the paint, which leaves disclosed the sketchy brushwork. Also the blurred profile of the mother with its summary simplification is close to Degas’ manner. On the other hand, the clearly distinguished planes, alien to the Impressionism of the 1870s, presuppose a knowledge of the Japanese woodcut.