2 (Breeskin 17)
The Mandolin Player
Alternate title(s): A Mandoline Player; A Mandolin Player; La mandoline; Mandolin Player; The Mandolin; The Mandolin Player
Oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (92.71 x 73.03 cm)
Inscribed lower left: Mary Stevenson
Private collection

provenance / ownership history
From the artist
to Alexander J. Cassatt, her brother, and by descent in family
private collection

exhibition history
1868 Salon: #2335, as La mandoline, under the name Mary Stevenson
1960 Phila Museum: no #, as Mandolin Player
1981 Isetan Japan: #1, ill., as The Mandolin Player

published references
Brooklyn Eagle 1868: p. 2, as "works by Miss Mary Stevenson"
NY Times 1868: p. 8, as "portrait of an Italian girl"
Werner 1960: p. 17, as Mandolin Player
Lynes 1970: p. 440, as The Mandolin Player
Breeskin 1979: p.12, as The Mandolin Player
Roudebush 1979: pp. 7, 91, as The Mandolin Player
Getlein 1980: p. 106, as "a mandolin player"
Pollock 1980: p. 65, as The Mandolin Player
Rubinstein 1982: p. 131, as The Mandolin
Huntington et al 1983: p. 51, as The Mandolin Player
Mathews 1984: p. 20; p. 53, ill.; p. 57n2, as La mandoline; p. 57n2, as "portrait of an Italian girl"; p. 343, as La mandoline; letter: Eliza Haldeman to Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Haldeman, May 8, 1868, p. 54, as "her picture"
Seldin 1984: n.p., as La mandoline
Spassky 1984: p. 5, as La mandoline
Lindsay 1985: p. 33; p. 36, ill.; p. 38; p. 55, ill.; p. 90, as Mandolin Player
Spassky 1985: p. 630, as La mandoline
Mathews 1987: p. 12, ill.; pp. 13, 16, 18, as A Mandolin Player
Fink 1990: p. 84; p. 85; p. 392, as Mandolin Player
Effeny 1991: pp. 7, 9, 44, as A Mandolin Player
Wiser 1991: p. 35, as La mandoline
Gerdts and Dearinger 1992: p. 84, as The Mandolin
Mathews 1992: n.p., fig. 2, ill., as A Mandolin Player
Mathews 1994: p. 47; p. 48, ill.; pp. 51--52, 54, 79, as A Mandoline Player
Constantino 1995: p. 8, as The Mandolin Player
Pollock 1998: pp. 10, 82--84; p. 83, ill.; pp. 85, 86, 97, as The Mandolin Player
Adelson 2000: p. 8, as The Mandolin Player
Webster 2004: p. 18, as A Mandolin Player
Burns 2005: p. 81, as Mandolin Player
Meyers 2005: p. 253, as The Mandolin Player
Boone 2007: p. 91, as A Mandolin Player


The Mandolin Player is likely to be the first work by Cassatt accepted at the Paris Salon, in 1868. (Her submission of 1867—her first attempt to gain inclusion in this prestigious state-sponsored exhibition—was rejected.) The Mandolin Player is signed "Mary Stevenson," Stevenson being the artist's middle name as well as her mother's maiden name. Cassatt used this signature type through mid-1872, and she was, in fact, listed in the Salon of 1868 catalogue in this manner. Unfortunately, no contemporary review describing the picture in any detail has been located. The only discussion of the work from this period, published in the New York Times in 1868, stated, "A portrait of an Italian girl, by MARY STEVENSON, of Pennsylvania, has obtained a place on the line, and well deserves it, for its vigor of treatment and fine qualities of color."[1] This critic's identification of the figure as an Italian girl is understandable given the costume (including a garland of grape leaves in her hair) and the resemblance of this image to genre pictures by English Romantic painters working in an Italianate manner, as well as paintings of the same type by the highly popular French artist Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. However, The Mandolin Player was painted not in Italy but in Écouen, a village thirty miles north of Paris. While living there from April 1867 to late April 1868, Cassatt studied with two of the best-known French genre painters, Pierre Édouard Frère and Paul Constant Soyer. (She did not travel to Italy until December 1869.) That Cassatt worked in an introspective, romantic style more closely related to that of Corot and Thomas Couture (who would become her mentor in July 1868), rather than in the more anecdotal French peasant genre mode of her teachers, is a measure of her independence, even at this early date.[2]

The Mandolin Player may also relate to the oeuvre of Édouard Manet and his 1861 Salon painting The Spanish Singer (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Though Cassatt's style does not approach the boldness of Manet's presentation, it does evince a concern for the contrasts of light and dark, creamy paint texture, and planar brushwork that would guide her to study with Manet's first teacher, Couture. (It is not known when Cassatt first encountered Manet or his work, but it seems reasonable to assume that she became aware of him by 1867, when he exhibited The Spanish Singer, among other paintings, at his controversial pavilion outside the Exposition Universelle in Paris.)

In terms of composition, palette, paint handling, and subject matter, The Mandolin Player stands between two pictures also signed "Mary Stevenson": The Young Bride, about 1866–67, and Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival, 1872. The Mandolin Player and The Young Bride share a simple three-quarter figural composition, a limited, somber palette, and a fairly generalized facture resulting in faces that lack focus. In contrast, the features of the women in the more elaborately composed Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival—an Italian genre subject picture painted in Parma—are sharply defined, providing evidence of Cassatt's additional years of study between 1868 and 1872.

The Mandolin Player came to be owned by Cassatt's brother Alexander and eventually hung in Cheswold, his Haverford, Pennsylvania, home. It was displayed there as a pendant to Édouard Manet's 1860 painting Italienne (private collection), a picture that Cassatt had arranged for Alexander to purchase from Manet's posthumous sale in 1884. Manet's model went on to pose for Corot's Agostina (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) in 1866, and she is likely the subject of Vincent van Gogh's 1887 painting Agostina Segatori in the Café du Tamborin (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). Cassatt's The Mandolin Player, like Manet's Italienne and Corot's Agostina, is a fanciful imagining of an Italian peasant subject painted from the model in France.


[1] "France; American Artists at the Salon," New York Times, June 7, 1868, p. 8.

[2] For the best discussion of Cassatt's relation to Soyer, Frère, Corot, and Couture, see letters of Eliza Haldeman in Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), pp. 44–57.

Parlor in Alexander J. Cassatt's Haverford home, Cheswold, c. 1900. Cassatt's The Mandolin Player is visible at right on rear wall; Manet's Italienne is seen to the left on rear wall. (Photograph courtesy of Estate of Mrs. John B. Mayer.)

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