9 (Breeskin 20)
Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange
Alternate title(s): Girl Eating Orange; Girl with Orange; Peasant Girl with Orange; Portrait of Woman Peeling an Orange
c. 1872
Oil on canvas
22 x 18 in. (55.88 x 45.72 cm)
Inscribed lower left, vertically (faint): M. Stevenson Cassatt/Seville
Private collection

provenance / ownership history
J. Gardner Cassatt
consigned by his estate to Samuel T. Freeman & Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1931, #135, ill., as Peasant Girl with Orange
to Mr. Braun
Kleeman-Thorman Galleries, New York, by 1934
Samuel T. Freeman & Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 29, 1937, #43, as Portrait of Woman Peeling an Orange
Leslie Waggener Jr., Dallas, Texas, by 1949, possibly purchased from Joseph Sartor Galleries, Dallas
by descent in family
did not sell when offered at Christie's, New York, December 4, 1996, #164, ill.
private collection

exhibition history
1876 De Sales: possibly in this exhibition, if this is the work described in the Philadelphia Press 1876 as Orange Girl
1934 Kleeman-Thorman NY: no #, as Girl Eating Orange
1949 Dallas MFA: no #, as Girl with Orange, lent by Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Waggener
1998--99 Taggart: no #, ill., as Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange, lent by private collection

published references
Art News 1931a: p. 19, as Peasant Girl with Orange
Jewell 1934: p. 12, as "Kleeman-Thormen. . . . Mary Cassatt"
NY Times 1934a: p. 19, as Girl Eating Orange
Boone 1998: p. 54; p. 55, ill., as Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange
Boone 1999: p. 128, ill., as Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange
Boone 2007: pp. 110--11; p. 111, ill., as Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange

commentary

In terms of both signature and style, Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange bridges Cassatt’s 1872 Parma pictures and her Spanish paintings of 1873. The work is signed and inscribed "M. Stevenson Cassatt/Seville" in an unusual location: the lines run parallel to the left edge of the canvas, with the "M." located closer to the woman’s hip and "Cassatt" closer to her shoulder. This unique signature stands between the "Mary Stevenson Cassatt" form she used in Parma in 1872 and the "M.S.C." she developed in Seville in 1873.

As for style, Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange retains certain compositional traits that Cassatt favored in Parma and earlier, but exhibits changes in palette and paint handling that speak to her study of the Old Masters in Madrid, after she left Parma in late September 1872, and before she left for Seville in late October of that year. A half-length figure of a woman with her head slightly tilted, Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange resembles The Bacchante, while the exaggerated position of the Peasant Woman’s left hand brings to mind the Correggio-like gesture seen in Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival.

Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange, like a number of the Spanish pictures to follow, shares with the Parma pictures of carnival and bacchanal an interest in the sensual aspects of life. Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange takes the sensuality to a much higher level of intensity, more than the other paintings, through the use of brighter colors, a more varied and assured application of paint, and a more relaxed and engaging pose. Cassatt's works prior to Spain might be described as almost grisaille in palette, so limited is the range of hues employed in them. Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange, in contrast, uses the deep green, red, and white of the woman's costume along with the orange of the fruit to bring an increased sense of vigor to Cassatt's oeuvre. The change may reflect the influence of the Venetian colorists, and Titian in particular, for his work—renowned for both its sensual themes and palette—is well represented in the Prado collection in Madrid.

An assured application of paint in short, blocky strokes in the woman's clothing in Peasant Woman Peeling an Orange not only echoes the facture Cassatt appreciated in paintings by Diego Velázquez at the Prado, but also brings to mind the work of Édouard Manet, a French artist who emulated that Spanish master. The woman's flesh is created with small dabs of paint that more convincingly express the volume of a human body than had Cassatt's earlier technique, bringing to mind another contemporary painter whose work the artist admired, Raimundo de Madrazo y Garetta. In a letter written on the last day of 1872, she noted, "here is Madrazo [who] paints these gypsies with cheeks like some deep red peaches, and he paints them with Malachite green and white. His modelling and his manner as far as I have seen is fine."[1] Furthermore, whereas the poses of the figures in Cassatt's earlier paintings were often quite stiff and the faces generally lacking expression, the woman here slumps slightly toward the viewer, addressing him or her with a wide-eyed, penetrating gaze and full red lips parted. The overall effect—a figure with a more relaxed, appealing, and corporeal presence—represents a decisive step toward the naturalism for which Cassatt would eventually be praised, especially in her Impressionist pictures.

PAI

[1] MC to Emily Sartain, Seville, New Year's Evening, 1873, in Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 114. Cassatt dated this letter "New Year's Evening, 1873," which presumably means that it was actually written on the last day of 1872 because she spent the winter of 1872–73 in Spain, but the winter of 1873–74 in Rome.

Spanish Girl: Head and Shoulders, 1873, pencil, 9 x 6 3/4 in. (22.9 x 17.1 cm), whereabouts unknown. (Photograph provided by the Breeskin archive, Mary Cassatt Catalogue Raisonné Committee, Adelson Galleries, New York, N.Y.)

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keywords:
 peasant
 woman
 portrait
 looking forward
 girl
 white
 shawl
 red
 dress
 costume
 green
 dress
 fruit
 Spanish
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