Mary Cassatt 1844 - 1926
- Mary Cassatt
- Mother and Child (Nude Dark-Eyed Little Girl with Mother in Patterned Wrapper)
- signed Mary Cassatt, l.r. and Mary Cassatt, l.l.
- pastel on paper
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York
Margot Lux and her mother Reine Lefebvre, depicted in Nude Dark Eyed Little Girl with Mother in Patterned Wrapper, were two of Cassatt's favorite models around the turn of the century and lived near the artist in Mesnil-Theribus. Cassatt preferred to use rural, peasant people like Reine as models for her maternal subjects, not only because of their healthy appearance but because they were the sole care-takers of their children, in contrast to Cassatt's wealthier acquaintances who could afford wet-nurses or nannies. Judith A. Barter writes, "Even more compelling for Cassatt than children per se was their care and the emotional and physical involvements [sic] with adults this entailed. Cassatt's compositions of 1880 and after ... reflect the most advanced ideas about the importance of maternity and raising of children. As she concentrated increasingly on maternal images, she retained the highly formal structure of her earlier ... domestic compositions but narrowed her focus, enlarging her figures of women and children in order to emphasize caretaking and physical contact" (Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman, 1998, p. 73).
Cassatt's ability to celebrate the motif of mother and child in a manner devoid of sentiment, yet full of emotion, is one of the distinctly modern aspects of her art. In the present work the facial features of Margot and Reine are firmly and carefully modeled while the background and mother's clothing are rapidly and expressively drawn. Cassatt's use of the soft pastel medium emphasizes the gentle caress between mother and child and the smooth, almost transparent flesh of the baby. Although the figures share no eye contact, their intimacy is expressed through the close positions of their heads and their relaxed but intimate embrace. The composition conveys with quietude and natural grace the timeless bond of mother and child. Leslie Cheek Jr. wrote, "Perhaps no other artist has succeeded in presenting so completely, or with the same degree of insight, the subtle harmonies existing in the close relationship of mother and child" (Mary Cassatt, 1941, n.p.).