Lot 368
  • 368

MARY CASSATT | Mr. Robert S. Cassatt on Horseback

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Mary Cassatt
  • Mr. Robert S. Cassatt on Horseback
  • Signed Mary Cassatt (lower left)
  • Pastel on paper
  • 36 by 29 in.
  • 91.4 by 73.6 cm
  • Executed in 1885.


Gardner Cassatt, Pennsylvania (the artist's brother; acquired from the artist circa 1885)
Mrs. Eugenia Cassatt Madeira, Berwyn, Pennsylvania (the artist's niece; acquired from the above by 1960)
Private Collection, United States (by descent from the above)
Coe Kerr Gallery, New York (acquired in 1982)
Private Collection (acquired from the above on November 8, 1984)
Adelson Galleries, New York (acquired in 1991)
Acquired from the above in July 1991


Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mary Cassatt, 1960, n.n. (titled Robert Simpson Cassatt on Horseback)
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., The Paintings of Mary Cassatt, 1966, no. 17, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Robert Simpson Cassatt on Horseback)
Southampton, The Parrish Art Museum, Miss Mary Cassatt, 1967, no. 14, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Robert Simpson Cassatt on Horseback)
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Faces from the World of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1972, no. 6, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Coe Kerr Gallery, Mary Cassatt: An American Observer, 1984, no. 20, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Adelson Galleries, Inaugural Exhibition: One Hundred Years of American and European Art, 1990, no. 10, illustrated in the catalogue


Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1970, no. 137, illustrated p. 79
Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt, Garden City, New York, 1975, illustrated n.p. 
David Lowe, "Mary Cassatt," in American Heritage, no. 25, 1973, illustrated p. 17 (titled Robert S. Cassatt riding the artist's mare)
Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt, Garden City, New York, 1975, illustrated n.p.
Nancy Matthews, Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, New York, 1984, illustrated p. 196
Alison Effeny, Cassatt: The Masterworks, New York, Portland House, 1991, illustrated p. 87
Griselda Pollock, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1998, illustrated n.p. (titled Robert Cassatt on Horseback)


The paper has been laid down to a supporting sheet of paper. There is an artist pinhole at the lower left corner, a pinhole at the center of the top edge and a pinhole along the center of the right edge. There are some scattered nicks and tears to all four edges of the sheet, the largest of which is 1/2 inch. The edges of the sheet are slightly discolored. There is a well-repaired tear that extends across the upper right hand corner which measures 8 inches. There is some possible skinning to the medium in the figure's shoe. The work is in good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Born into a family of land speculators that had settled in the Pittsburgh area, Robert Simpson Cassatt earned his fortune as a mercantile investor in his twenties and thirties. By the time Mary was born, the fourth surviving child of Robert and his wife Katherine, the Cassatts were living in Allegheny City, a wealthy town just across the Allegheny River from industrial Pittsburgh. When Mary was four years old, the family moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where they resided comfortably in one of the most opulent mansions in the entire state. By the time Mary was eleven, Robert had moved his family several more times, first to Philadelphia, then across the ocean for sojourns in England, France and Germany. As an adult, Mary continued to travel often between America and Europe, and Robert and Katherine joined her permanently in France in 1877. The present work is one of only a handful of works Cassatt executed featuring a sole male subject, an important example of her aptitude beyond her deeply psychological portraits of motherhood.

Much like her mentor Edgar Degas, Cassatt was a master of pastel as an artistic medium, a skill on full display in the present work. The softness of the medium was particularly suited for Cassatt’s tender style and subject matter. As a female artist painting in the nineteenth century, especially one who was well-educated and well-heeled, many of the colorful subjects and settings that provided inspiration for her male counterparts remained off-limits for Cassatt. As such, domestic themes formed the focus of the artist’s oeuvre and her family and friends served as her primary models. When she was not painting mothers and children, Cassatt portrayed her brothers, nephews, and very occasionally, her father. In the present work, Mr. Cassatt is mounted on a horse facing away from the viewer, ready to embark on a ride. The verdant foliage of these trees and the dirt road are depicted with a modern handling of the medium, the looseness of the pastel providing a soft background in contrast to the more refined horse and figure. With her command of shading, Cassatt beautifully renders the subtle textures of the coat of both her father and the horse. Similar to some of her most iconic mother and child compositions, Cassatt flattens the perspective of the scene ever so slightly with the intention of focusing the viewer’s attention on her subjects, a pioneering technique that pushed the boundaries of Impressionism to which the post-Impressionist generation owed a significant debt.

Although she made her first foray into the Parisian art scene in 1867, Cassatt’s career witnessed a meteoric rise in production, quality and critical reception in the 1880s. Her output increased dramatically from only three pictures in 1877 to a record twenty-nine in 1880. At the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, she even received several glowing comments from the critic Albert Wolff in Le Figaro. Wolff, who was typically harsh and unsympathetic to the Impressionists, singled her out with special praise: “…Mlle Cassatt is a veritable phenomenon; in more than one of her works she is on the point of becoming a considerable artist, with an extraordinary feeling for nature, penetrating powers of observation, and an ability to subordinate herself to the model which is characteristic of the greatest artists…” (quoted in F. E. Wissman, “Realists among the Impressionists,” in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, Geneva & San Francisco, 1986, p. 349). The critic Elie de Mont claimed that Cassatt and her other female colleague, Berthe Morisot, were the only interesting artists exhibiting that year. Gauguin, however, was drawn to Cassatt’s entries in particular: “Miss Cassatt has as much charm, but she has more power [than Morisot]” (quoted in E. John Bullard, Mary Cassatt, Oils and Pastels, Washington, D.C., 1972, p. 15).

This work is included as no. 137 in the Cassatt Committee's revision of Adelyn Dohme Breeskin's catalogue raisonné of the works of Mary Cassatt.