Reconsidering the Women of Impressionism: The Prints of Mary Cassatt

Observed today, these astonishing prints by Mary Cassatt – currently being celebrated at the New York Public Library in its latest retrospective, Daring Methods: The Prints of Mary Cassatt – are startlingly fresh and elicit a subdued, natural beauty. A friend of Edward Degas who accepted his offer to join the Impressionist group after her work was rebuffed by the Paris Salon in 1875, one can trace his influence in her art. And yet, we might look at Cassatt’s work as a reaction to the women of Degas’ work, who appeared as ballerinas or prostitutes – or both. Cassatt’s women are mothers bathing their babies, or perhaps single women seen at their toilettes, writing letters, getting ready to leave the house, as well as women of different ages in more arranged poses sitting for a portrait.

Perhaps even more than Degas’ influence, we can see in Cassatt’s work how heavily inspired she was by the Japanese prints emerging at the time. Observe her dexterous attention to detail, especially pertinent in her monochrome works (and you can see how the detail changes from one state to another in Cassatt’s Reflection prints), and in the color prints, the kind of supple quality the hues she used have. The NYPL exhibit offers a rare opportunity to see an impressive body of her work, from 1878 to 1898. As her prints have been stowed away in the library’s extensive collection, out of the public’s sight, Cassatt is perhaps Impressionism’s great forgotten lady painter.

Daring Methods: The Prints of Mary Cassatt is on view at the New York Public Library through June 23, 2013.

“By the Pond,” ca. 1898
Image Credit: New York Public Library