Emmie and Her Child, c. 1893

View all works from this time period.

Works mentioned in this section:
The Family
Young Thomas and His Mother
Portrait of Mrs. Clement B. Newbold
Portrait of Mrs. Havemeyer and Her Daughter Electra
Madame and Her Maid
Mother Giving a Drink to Her Child
The Conversation
The Cup of Chocolate
Portrait of Gardiner G. Hammond and George Fiske Hammond
Mrs. Harris Whittemore and Baby Helen
Three Women Admiring a Child
Mother Louise, Nursing Her Baby
Woman in an Orange Wrapper Holding Her Nude Baby
The Oval Mirror
Baby Getting Up From His Nap
Baby Charles Looking Over His Mother's Shoulder (No. 3)

Return to Realism and Classicism

At this moment, Cassatt begins working explicitly in series, posing the same figures in a number of similar but slightly varied compositions.

In a group of pastels done in late 1893 and early 1894, the more conservative and academic aspects of a work like The Family can be see coming to the fore.

The solidity and solemnity of pictures such as Young Thomas and His Mother. might even be compared to the imagery of another artist whose pictures had once been successfully handled by Durand-Ruel:  Bouguereau; at the same time, Cassatt avoids his sweet or saccharine devices.

In this period, she turned increasingly to portraiture, beginning with relatives and close friends, including Portrait of Mrs. Clement B. Newbold (1894) and Portrait of Mrs. Havemeyer and Her Daughter Electra (1895).

In the mid-1890s, Cassatt frequently posed her models in profile, a device that can be traced to fifteenth-century Florentine portraiture as well as to ancient Greek and Egyptian bas reliefs (see Madame and Her Maid).

Feminist scholars have noted that the profile pose was often employed to offer a static view of the female visage to the possessive male gaze; in Cassatt’s works, however, the pose is often used to imply that these women are inaccessible because they are lost in private thought or activities.

In 1896–97, Cassatt created a number of pastels based on a palette of light colors enlivened with bright gold and orange or deep blue and green tones.

Some of these pictures, like Mother Giving a Drink to Her Child, treat the mother and child theme, while others, such as The Conversation and The Cup of Chocolate, depict a young woman alone or in the company of another woman.

These works are usually not related to Old Master precedents but rather depict more domestic or naturalistic poses.

In the mother and child works of this era, there is an emphasis on gestures or poses of close tactile contact: embraces, kisses, handholding, etc.

In January 1898, Cassatt arrived in the U.S., where she would spend the next few months visiting family and friends and executing a large number of portrait commissions (at least 20 pictures), including those of the Hammond and Whittemore families (see Portrait of Gardiner G. Hammond and George Fiske Hammond and Mrs. Harris Whittemore and Baby Helen).

After her return to France in the summer of 1898, Cassatt created a number of multifigure compositions depicting two or more women admiring a child or reading with a child, such as Three Women Admiring a Child.

While some of these works recall Old Master compositions of the Virgin and St. Anne, others look to secular Dutch and Flemish images of women caring for their children.

In a group of works (mainly pastels) done in late 1898 and early 1899, such as Mother Louise, Nursing Her Baby and Woman in an Orange Wrapper Holding Her Nude Baby, Cassatt presented intimate moments between a mother and a dark-haired female child in compositions dependent upon the classic triangular Renaissance Madonna and Child format, particularly as found in the paintings of Raphael; the palette of these works, too, looks to the jewel tones of Renaissance and Raphaelesque precedent.

At the same moment, the artist began to produce a series of works (mainly paintings) depicting a mother and a blond-haired male child and including images that more closely resemble traditional Madonna and Child templates than any other works of her career; see especially The Oval Mirror, in which the boy is displayed for the viewer like the Christ child.

Nonetheless, some of the images in this same series, like Baby Getting Up from His Nap, place the same mother and child within settings redolent with contemporary domestic details, like the still life in the foreground and the upholstered chair upon which the mother sits.

In the following series, made during the year 1900, Cassatt utilized the same device of the mirror seen in The Oval Mirror to a far different genre effect in Baby Charles Looking over His Mother’s Shoulder (No. 3). Whereas the mirror serves to frame the boy’s head like a halo in The Oval Mirror, in Baby Charles it reflects not only the mother’s face but the child’s buttocks, thus deflecting any possible religious reading.

In previous series, Cassatt had tended to favor one medium over the other; with the “Baby Charles” series, she changed her working method, creating highly finished variants on the same composition in both oil and pastel, and making a number of far less finished studies focusing on specific elements from the composition (in this case, a number of sketches of the baby’s head and sometimes hand or arms); she continued to use this method for the rest of her career.

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