23 (Breeskin 29)
A Musical Party
Alternate title(s): De repetitie; La partie de musique; Musical Party; The Music Lesson; The Music-lesson; The Musical Party
Oil on canvas
38 5/8 x 26 7/8 in. (98.11 x 68.26 cm)
Inscribed upper left: M.S. Cassatt/1874
Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, France

provenance / ownership history
M. and Mme René Mayer, Paris
to Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, 1966

exhibition history
1874 Rosenquest: no # known
1874 Royal Academy Amsterdam: #84, as De repetitie
1876 Pennsylvania Academy: #151, as A Musical Party, lent by the artist
1878 Massachusetts Mechanic: #209, as The Music Lesson
1983 Detroit Institute: #4, ill., as A Musical Party
1991 Nice: #63, ill., as La partie de musique, lent by Musée du Petit Palais

published references
Art Journal 1876: pp. 222--23, as A Musical Party
Philadelphia Telegraph 1876: p. 5, as A Musical Party
Boston Evening Transcript 1878a: p. 4, as "blonde beauty . . . and . . . music teacher"
Boston Morning Journal 1878: p. 3, as The Music Lesson
Clement and Hutton 1880: p. 123, as The Music-lesson
Sweet 1966: pp. 37, 38, 47, as Musical Party; p. 79, as The Music Lesson
Hale, N. 1975: pp. 79, 94, as The Music Lesson; p. 80, as A Musical Party
Yeh 1976: p. 361, as A Musical Party
Roudebush 1979: p. 11, ill; p. 14, as A Musical Party
Pollock 1980: p. 35, ill.; p. 65, as A Musical Party
Huntington et al 1983: p. 36; p. 51, ill.; p. 52, as A Musical Party
Mathews 1984: p. 125, ill., as A Musical Party; p. 140n2, as The Music Lesson; letters: Emily Sartain to John Sartain, June 17, 1874, p. 126, as "three figures singing"; Robert Cassatt to Alexander Cassatt, October 4, 1878, p. 138, as "some of Mary's pictures . . . have been sent to the Boston exhibition"; Katherine Cassatt to Alexander Cassatt, November 22 [1878], p. 141, as Musical Party
Lindsay 1985: p. 18, ill., as Musical Party
Mathews 1987: p. 23, ill.; pp. 29, 30, as A Musical Party
Peet 1990: p. 13, as A Musical Party
Effeny 1991: pp. 13, 48; p. 49, ill., as A Musical Party
Constantino 1995: p. 8; p. 19, ill., as A Musical Party
Gruitrooy 1996: p. 10., ill., as A Musical Party
Pollock 1998: pp. 10, 97; p. 99, ill.; p. 110, as The Musical Party


From the description given in a letter from Emily Sartain to her father, dated June 17, 1874, A Musical Party appears to have been on view in a Paris gallery at that time, "She has a picture now at her dealer's in the Boul. Haussmann, that is superb and delicate in color,—three figures singing. The light on the chest and face of the foreground figure, a blonde, is perfectly dazzling. It is as slovenly in manner and in drawing as her Spanish pochades, however."[1] The gallery was probably that of M. Rosenquest, for Cassatt's address at the Salon of 1874 was listed as "Chez M. Rosenquest, boulevard Haussmann, 27." Given that the work is inscribed "1874" and was already on view in a gallery in Paris by mid-June, it must have been painted in Rome, where Cassatt spent the first few months of 1874; she arrived in Paris shortly before June 17.

A Musical Party is a variation on the three-figure compositional type also seen in Cassatt's 1873 Spanish picture On the Balcony during the Carnival. The subject of music making, like balcony scenes, has often had amorous connotations in the history of art, particularly in Netherlandish art. In Cassatt's interpretation, however, the male figure is not sufficiently delineated so as to participate in any active flirtation. Having been painted in Rome, A Musical Party features women with hands that reflect Cassatt's earlier studies of the Italian mannerists, with their thin, tapered fingers. At the same time, the work looks forward to one of the artist's most famous Impressionist pictures, Lydia Leaning on Her Arms, Seated in a Loge, for the central figure in each of these pictures wears a similar low-cut pink dress and a pearl necklace, and both women have red or strawberry blonde hair.

At the present time, A Musical Party appears from the evidence of the title and date to be the work most likely to have been shown at the 1874 Koninklijke Akademie van Beeldende Kunsten exhibition in Amsterdam as The Rehearsal, but no supporting evidence has emerged. The work was sent to the United States, where it was handled by Mitchell and possibly Teubner (for more on these figures, see Torero and Young Girl). It is one of the pictures mentioned by Robert Cassatt as having received good reviews at the 1878 Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics exhibition, "Mrs. Mitchell took some of Mary's pictures home with her in June last & some two or three of them have been sent to the Boston Exhibition & have received very flattering notices from the papers particularly the Transcript."[2] In fact, the critic for the Boston Evening Transcript stated, "A dazzling blonde beauty, with ample white throat and chest displayed by the turn of the chest upward and backwards towards her music teacher . . . has all the breadth of treatment, color and handling characteristic of old masters. Miss Cassatt is certainly one of the leading stars of this exhibition."[3]


[1] Emily Sartain to John Sartain, Paris, June 17, 1874, in Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 126.

[2] Robert Cassatt to Alexander Cassatt, Paris, October 4, 1878, in Mathews 1984, p. 138.

[3] "The M.C.M.A. Exhibition," Boston Evening Transcript, September 3, 1878, p. 4.

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