While Cassatt’s work of the 1870s had reflected her interest in the experience of modern women in Parisian society, by the 1880s her emphasis began to shift from the public to the private domains of women’s lives, and thus to the quiet, intimate moments spent within the domestic realm. Depictions of motherhood, largely comprised of simple, daily interactions between mothers and their children, were a natural outcome of Cassatt’s movement into the private sphere. This shift was immediately noted by contemporary critics, who singled out the images of women and children Cassatt submitted to the sixth Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1881 for special praise. One critic, Joris Karl Huysmans, observed that Cassatt had managed to avoid the cloying sentimentality that so often affected scenes of maternal tenderness and devotion. Painted in 1914, Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress with Her Child Outdoors epitomizes Cassatt’s inimitable ability to capture the timeless bond between a mother and her child, a subject that accounts for one-third of the artist’s oeuvre.
In Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress with Her Child Outdoors, a young girl perches casually on her mother’s lap, leaning into her supportive embrace. Both figures gaze into the distance, avoiding eye contact with the viewer and creating the impression that Cassatt has caught them in a natural state rather than in a scene she has composed. Through the artist’s thoughtful positioning of the figures, she captures the psychological nuances that characterize familial relationships. Cassatt renders both figures’ facial features with careful attention and accuracy, while depicting their dresses and the background with dynamic strokes of paint that imbue the canvas with a sense of movement. Her monochromatic palette and thick layering of paint is distinctly modern and certainly innovative for the period. The broad brushstrokes and painterly style is evocative of the large-scale, colorful canvases of Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell (Fig. 1). Indeed, both women were pioneers of their time who utilized gestural strokes of vibrant pigment to capture the world around them.
In Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress with Her Child Outdoors, Cassatt embraces a new visual language to depict modern life and convey the inimitable tenderness often present in a mother’s interaction with her child. It exemplifies Cassatt’s ability to celebrate the motif in a manner devoid of sentiment yet full of emotion, creating a work that is simultaneously modern and traditional.
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