National Gallery of Art

Washington, D.C.


Interior of East Building atrium of National Gallery of Art, featuring Alexander Calder mobile; photo: John Hazeltine, ©1987


Mary Cassatt at National Gallery of Art


The most comprehensive survey in more than twenty-five years of the work of Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), one of the leading painters of the late nineteenth century, will be on view in the Gallery's East Building through September 6, 1999. Mary Cassatt brings together fifty-five of the artist's most beautiful and compelling paintings and color prints and illustrates many facets of her long and productive career. The Gallery's exhibition will include important works from the Chester Dale Collection, which by the terms of Dale's bequest, cannot be shown elsewhere.

It travels to Washington, its final venue, after showings at The Art Institute of Chicago (October 13, 1998 - January 10, 1999) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (February 14 - May 9, 1999).

"Mary Cassatt represents the first comprehensive survey of the artist's work to be shown since the National Gallery's 1970 exhibition," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are proud to draw upon our own rich collection of Cassatt's works to illuminate this celebrated and inspirational American artist. We are thankful to Aetna whose generous support has made this exhibition possible."

"As an American and a woman, Mary Cassatt is unique among the impressionists who exhibited their works in Paris in the late nineteenth century," said Aetna Chairman and CEO Richard L. Huber. "It is the enduring appeal of her work and its reflection of women in contemporary life that makes all of us at Aetna very pleased to sponsor this exhibition at the National Gallery. Her focus on mothers and children makes her art especially beloved. Certainly, many visitors to our nation's capital this summer will have their stay in Washington enriched by viewing these works by Mary Cassatt."



Cassatt, an adventurous modern artist and independent woman, was wholly involved in the French impressionist movement beginning in the late 1870s. A strong-willed businesswoman and influential consultant to art collectors, she was an expatriate who nonetheless always considered herself an American. Mary Cassatt traces the extraordinary career of this artist who was the only American (and one of only three women) to exhibit with the impressionists in Paris.

She was recognized as one of America's most important artists in her lifetime.

The exhibition begins with some of Cassatt's early subjects, derived from her travels to France, Italy, and Spain, including such paintings as The Flirtation: A Balcony in Seville (1872) and Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter (1872-1873). Cassatt settled permanently in Paris in 1874, and began to show her work in the impressionist exhibitions of 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. The exhibition includes three works from her 1879 debut with Degas, Pissarro, Monet, and others. Among these is one of several of Cassatt's images depicting the theater and the opera in fin-de-siècle Paris, entitled Woman in a Loge (1878-79). Another, Portrait of a Little Girl (Little Girl in a Blue Armchair) (1878), was innovative both in its attitude to the subject and in its composition.

By the 1880s, Cassatt was concentrating on depictions of women's daily lives -- often using members of her own family as subjects -- as in Tea (1879/80) and Autumn (1880). Her tender yet unsentimental approach to the subject of mothers and children can be seen in such paintings as Mother and Child (1889) and Breakfast in Bed (c.1897). These images often carried over to the artist's prints, influenced by the color effects and bold perspectives achieved by Japanese artists, as seen in The Child's Bath (The Bath) (1890-1891).

The exhibition closes with Cassatt's late paintings that relate to her monumental mural, Modern Woman, which was shown in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Although the mural was lost after the fair's closing, it served as the basis for many of Cassatt's most impressive and important works of the 1890s, including Young Women Picking Fruit (1891/1892).



For the National Gallery's opening in 1941, Chester Dale -- one of the founding benefactors -- lent twenty-two American works, and a few months later, two rooms of French impressionist paintings.

Among his extraordinary collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art, which he bequeathed to the Gallery in 1962, were many works by Cassatt. Visitors to the Gallery's 1999 showing of Mary Cassatt will have the opportunity to view several important paintings from this collection: Study (Girl Arranging Her Hair) (1885/1886), Women in a Loge (The Loge) (1881/1882), Portrait of a Lady (Miss Mary Ellison) (1877), The Mirror (Mother and Child) (c. 1905), Revery (Woman with a Red Zinnia) (1891-1892), and The Boating Party (1894). Ten color drypoints and aquatints from the Chester Dale Collection will also be on view in the exhibition.

The National Gallery is one of the richest repositories of Cassatt's oeuvre, with a total of 119 paintings, drawings, and prints. Four of the Gallery's nine original founding benefactors -- Chester Dale, Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, and Lessing J. Rosenwald -- were serious collectors of the artist's work and, through their gifts, assured that all periods of Cassatt's work would be represented in the Gallery's collection.



Some of the previous exhibitions that have explored aspects of Mary Cassatt's works include:

The NGA exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Aetna.

Read more in Resource Library Magazine on the National Gallery of Art

For further biographical information on Mary Cassatt please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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