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Masterpieces

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Woman Sitting with a Child in Arms

Mary Cassatt

Pittsburgh, Pensylvania, 1844-Mesnil-Théribus, Oise, France, 1926

Woman Sitting with a Child in Arms

Oil on canvas, 81 x 65.5 cm

1890

Contributed by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia in 1920

Mothers and their children were a common theme in Cassat’s oeuvre and can be read as modern secular versions of traditional representations of the Virgin Mary and Child, divested of all religious symbolism and transformed into everyday domestic scenes. The composition, which has a reduced colour range, presents a little boy in the arms of his mother. She has her back to us and seems to be concentrated on the toilet of the child, who is looking straight at the viewer. The monumental figures are located in a space that is barely described save for the pitcher and the washbasin on the left, although the armchair—the back of which occupies the foreground of the composition—suggests it is a pleasant bourgeois interior. Alongside Berthe Morisot and Marie Bracquemond, Cassat was one of the few female artists associated with Impressionism. Although she began her artistic training in her home country most of her career developed in France, where she settled in 1865. In 1877 she met Degas, who invited her to join the group of painters that had organised the first Impressionist exhibition three years before. Cassat took part in four of the eight group exhibitions to great acclaim and became very active in the field of engraving, strongly influenced by Japanese prints. Her portraits, domestic scenes, theatre interiors and maternities, whose models came from her immediate personal and family circles, offer a peaceful vision of the everyday activities of women from her own social class, who she depicted arriving at the theatre and the opera, welcoming friends at home or reading in comfortable interiors. [M.A.]

Woman Sitting with a Child in Arms

Masterpieces