Drawing for "Evening"
Conte crayon on thin, light wove paper
Purchased through gifts from the Lathrop Fellows; D.2003.16
This remarkably innovative study for a print dates from an especially formative and experimental period in Mary Cassatt’s career, one in which she explored subjects and approaches to design that would prove central to her art. It was also during this time that Cassatt earned widespread acceptance by prominent patrons and leading French impressionist artists, especially Edgar Degas, who became a close friend and mentor. He invited her to exhibit with the French impressionists and also encouraged her efforts in printmaking. In 1877, Cassatt took in her aging parents and her sister, Lydia, who by 1879 had been diagnosed with a terminal illness of the kidneys. The artist’s increasing familial responsibilities led her to focus on her family and the domestic sphere in her art. Set in her home in Paris, this meditative work captures the artist’s mother reading and her sister sewing—productive engagements that reflect their intelligence and education. In this drawing, Mrs. Cassatt’s strong fingers press upward against her temple in concentration, as if pointing to the source of her intellect. Lydia is equally engaged in her knitting or sewing. Despite the intimate domestic setting and close proximity of the women, who share the light of the lamp, they do not face each other. The lamp radically divides the composition and further asserts the separate physical and psychological spaces occupied by each figure. Also rather abruptly cropped and spatially compressed, this work reveals the avant-garde influence of Degas and the compositional strategies associated with the Japanese woodblock prints that both artists collected. Cassatt apparently admired the final soft-ground etching, for it was one of eight prints she exhibited in the fifth impressionist exhibition in 1880.
Last Updated: 4/29/09