Margot in an Orange Dress, c. 1903–04

View all works from this time period.

Works mentioned in this section:
Simone in a Large Plumed Hat, Seated, Holding a Griffon Dog
After the Bath
Mother Adjusting Her Child's Bonnet
Sara Handing a Toy to the Baby
Reine Lefebvre Holding a Nude Baby
Woman in an Orange Wrapper Holding Her Nude Baby
Reine Lefebvre and Margot before a Window

The Pastel Years

Beginning around 1900, Cassatt added a new compositional element to her repertoire: while in the past she had generally focused on a single woman, or two women together, or one or more women posed with a single child, at this time she increasingly created works featuring a young girl posed alone or with a small dog.

In many cases, the girl also wears an elaborate hat.

Many of these works reflect the influence of Old Master Dutch and Flemish portraiture upon Cassatt’s style.

Most of the pictures of this period, especially those showing a little girl posed alone, are done in pastel; a few images of the girl accompanied by a woman are done in oil; orange and teal are the predominant colors in these works; her pastel technique is especially skillful.

When Cassatt works appeared in a Durand-Ruel, New York, exhibition of 1903, critics characterized the artist as “the apostle of the ugly women in art,” sometimes reading Cassatt’s rough brushwork as confirmation that these unattractive women were of a lower class than the artist herself.

At this point, a number of models generally identified as Sara, Simone, Margot, and Reine reappear in a majority of the pictures.

There is some evidence confirming the identities of Reine and Margot; however, there is little evidence regarding the names or identification of the blond girls, and it is often difficult to sort out which is which.

The girls and women in the works of this era wear quite explicitly fashionable gowns; works of this time are also the first known to be termed Cassatt’s “Modern Madonnas.”

Cassatt’s primary dealer, Durand-Ruel, had little interest in these pictures of girls or girls with dogs; Cassatt eventually found a market for these pictures around 1905 through the younger and more adventurous dealer Ambroise Vollard.

Her first series of this type, likely done at the end of 1900 and in 1901, features a blond girl with chin-length blond hair, sometimes wearing a large blue hat and matching blue bow under her chin, seated alone or with a dog, as in Simone in a Large Plumed Hat, Seated, Holding a Griffon Dog.

Cassatt’s next series, produced in 1901, generally comprises multifigure compositions that alternate between two types: a child being admired by a mother and another blond girl wearing fashionable dresses, but displayed somewhat in the manner of a Madonna, Child, and St. John composition, as in After the Bath; and a mother combing the hair of or fixing the hat of the blond girl, as in Mother Adjusting Her Child’s Bonnet.

Her following series, dating from late 1901 to early 1902, is similarly divided between images of mother and girl admiring a child and mother; mother and girl reading or sitting outdoors; and the girl wearing a bonnet, seated alone.

A few oils appear in this series, such as Sara Handing a Toy to the Baby; this work was recognized by critics for having figural types, paint handling, and a palette resembling that of Titian; the full-bodied figures and lush facture of Rubens had an increasing influence on Cassatt's oil painting after 1900 as well.

Another series, produced from 1902 to early 1903, introduces the model Reine Lefebvre; she posed in a group of oils and pastels with a nude blond child, as in Reine Lefebvre Holding a Nude Baby.

The next series, dating to 1903, depicts Reine with Margot Lux (who might be the same child seen in Woman in an Orange Wrapper Holding Her Nude Baby); see, for example, Reine Lefebvre and Margot before a Window.

Images featuring Reine and Margot are generally less dependent upon Old Master Mother and Child imagery, though these are the first of Cassatt's works known to be called “Modern Madonnas” by critics. Margot also appears in a number of works at this time in a red dress that slips off her shoulder and a green or teal bonnet.

In Cassatt’s final series of this period, 1903–04, Margot is posed in dresses that again seem too big for her, and in very large hats, seen alone or leaning upon Reine in the manner of Dutch Old Master portraiture.

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