A new study of Mary Cassatt that explores the centrality of work to both her inventive technical practice and her distinctive approach to modern subjects
Mary Cassatt’s (1844–1926) sensitive depictions of the social, intellectual, and professional lives of modern women often emphasize the work involved in the undervalued sphere of feminized activity. From her renowned portrayals of women and children that foreground the labor of caregiving—whether performed by hired help or mothers—to her images of embroidering, theatergoing, and reading, her female subjects are actively engaged, and often engrossed, in what they are doing.
Highlighting Cassatt’s attention to women’s roles in the making of modern life, this study connects her recurring subjects and rigorous techniques to her own understanding of her status as a professional artist. Rather than inspiration, genius, or sentiment, it was intense effort that Cassatt most identified with in her processes of pastel drawing, intaglio printmaking, and oil painting, which resulted in an ever-evolving style that left the labors of art-making visible. Drawing on previously unpublished letters, Cassatt family correspondence, and groundbreaking insights from technical examination of her works, Mary Cassatt at Work places the artist’s carefully constructed professional identity within the wider social contexts of Parisian modernity.
Distributed for the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art (May 18–September 8, 2024)
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (October 5, 2024–January 26, 2025)
Jennifer A. Thompson is the Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting and Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection, and Laurel Garber is the Park Family Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, both at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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