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Recent Acquisitions: Mary Cassatt, Drawing for “Evening,” 1879/80

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2003

Drawing for “Evening” is the first drawing by Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) to enter the museum’s collection. This remarkably innovative study for a print dates from around 1879–80, which was an especially formative and experimental period in Cassatt’s career. It was in 1879 that Cassatt, arguably the most celebrated American woman artist of the nineteenth century, first exhibited with the French Impressionists and began work with Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas on a series of etchings for an intended journal.

This drawing, like the resulting print, depicts Cassatt’s mother reading and sister sewing by the shared light of a gaslamp. Such private, inward evening activities occupied the artist increasingly during this period in which her family lived under her care. Despite the mood of intimacy, the lamp’s prominent placement between the figures radically divides the composition and creates separate physical and psychological spaces for mother and daughter. The arbitrary cropping of the figure to the right similarly demonstrates Cassatt’s avant-garde treatment of space, which followed the example of Degas. Severe and linear, with little indication of the interior setting, this composition emphasizes essential formal relationships rather than tone and detail.

Drawing for “Evening” has been featured in many exhibitions and publications pertaining to Cassatt’s career and to American Impressionism. It will be a key work in the Hood Museum of Art’s forthcoming traveling exhibition and scholarly publication Marks of Distinction: Two Hundred Years of American Watercolors and Drawing from the Hood Museum of Art, scheduled for Spring 2005.

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