4 (Breeskin 49)
Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father (Robert Simpson Cassatt)
Alternate title(s): ?Portrait de M. C.; Portrait of a Gentleman; Portrait of a Gentleman/Portrait of the Artist's Father; Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father; Portrait of Mr. C.; Portrait of Robert S. Cassatt; Portrait of the Artist's Father; Portrait of the Artist's Father, Robert S. Cassatt; Robert S. Cassatt; The Artist's Father
c. 1871--75
Oil on canvas
26 9/16 x 22 3/16 in. (67.47 x 56.36 cm)
Last known in a private collection, 1994

provenance / ownership history
Robert Kelso Cassatt, the artist's nephew
to Mrs. Robert Kelso Cassatt, his widow, and by descent in family
private collection

exhibition history
1876 Pennsylvania Academy: #121, as Portrait of a Gentleman, lent by the artist
1879 Impressionist Exh: #46, if this is the work shown as Portrait de M. C.
1895 Durand-Ruel NY: #27, as Portrait of Mr. C., lent by a private collection
1927 Penn Museum: #24, as Portrait of the Artist's Father, Robert S. Cassatt
1928 Carnegie Institute: #31, as The Artist's Father
1941--42 Baltimore Museum: #2, as Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father, lent by Robert Kelso Cassatt
1947 Wildenstein NY: #2, ill., as Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father, lent by Mrs. Robert K. Cassatt
1960 Phila Museum: no #, as Robert S. Cassatt

published references
Philadelphia Telegraph 1876: p. 5, as "head of an elderly gentleman"
Sébillot 1879: p. 239 in Berson, as "portrait de M. C.," if this work was shown in the 1879 Impressionist exhibition
NY Sun 1895: p. 7, as "her father"
NY Times 1895b: p. 4, as "portrait of a man"
Art News 1927b: p. 2, as Portrait of the Artist's Father, Robert S. Cassatt
Coates 1947: pp. 94, 96, as "portrait . . . of her father"
Sweet 1966: p. 47, as Portrait of a Gentleman
Pickvance 1973: p. 746, as "No. 49"
Hale, N. 1975: p. 18, as "portrait of Robert Cassatt, 1877"
Lindsay 1985: p. 23, ill.; pp. 90, 95n2, as Portrait of the Artist's Father, Robert S. Cassatt
Berry-Hill 1988: p. 114, as "Robert Simpson Cassatt"
Mathews 1994: p. 26; p. 27, ill.; p. 74, as Portrait of Robert S. Cassatt


After having lived in Europe since late 1865, Cassatt returned to the United States late in the summer of 1870 in order to avoid the Franco-Prussian War. She was able to continue working by setting up a studio in Hollidaysburg, a suburb of Altoona, Pennsylvania. On June 7, 1871, she wrote to Emily Sartain: "I am working by fits & starts at fathers portrait but it advances slowly he drops asleep while sitting. I commenced a study of our mulatto servant girl but just as I had the mask painted in she gave warning."[1] As discussed in the entry for Portrait of Mrs. Currey; Sketch of Mr. Cassatt, it is difficult to discern the precise relationship of that picture to the present canvas, a portrait of the artist's father, Robert Simpson Cassatt. Apparently Cassatt attempted to portray her father at least two, and possibly three, times. The first version is found inverted on Portrait of Mrs. Currey; Sketch of Mr. Cassatt. As the artist wrote in the June 7 letter quoted above, she had been interrupted in the painting of a family maid when the woman gave notice, but was still at work on her father's portrait. That image must have been a second attempt to depict her father, because the picture of the woman now identified as "Mrs. Currey" is clearly painted over a sketch of Robert Simpson Cassatt, the artist's first known (and by June 7, abandoned) attempt at his portrait.

Then, on July 10, 1871, in a moment of depression caused in part by her parents' unwillingness to pay for her return to studies abroad, Cassatt informed Sartain, "I have given up my studio & torn up my father's portrait, & have not touched a brush for six weeks nor ever will again until I see some prospect of getting back to Europe."[2] Yet, a finished portrait of her father was in fact completed: Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father (Robert Simpson Cassatt). Did she only claim to have destroyed an attempt at her father's portrait, while in reality finishing it? Or did she actually abandon her second attempt as reported, and start afresh on the work that became her only known completed portrait of her father? The answers to these questions are unclear given the evidence at hand, and the situation is further complicated by the fact that the inverted sketch of Robert Simpson Cassatt visible on Portrait of Mrs. Currey; Sketch of Mr. Cassatt represents a mirror image of Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father (Robert Simpson Cassatt), an odd situation for which no explanation has yet been found. In the same letter of July 10, Cassatt stated that she had come to believe that painting was impossible for her at that moment "unless I choose to set to work & manufacture pictures by the aid of photographs."[3] Might some reversal of the direction of the image in the production (or projection?) of a photograph be responsible for the mirror effect? If painted from a photograph, Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father (Robert Simpson Cassatt) could have been completed after the artist returned to Europe. (Her parents continued to live in the U.S. until October 1877.)

Given the questions regarding how many versions of her father's portrait were attempted by Cassatt and in what order, and a lack of information about how the finished version was finally achieved, it is not possible to assign a definitive date to Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father (Robert Simpson Cassatt). Presumably, extrapolating from the evidence of the July 10 letter, the majority of work on this painting was completed after that date. Cassatt remained in the U.S. through the fall of 1871 and may have been encouraged to paint her father again—whether starting anew or completing an earlier attempt—once she received the commissions from the Bishop of Pittsburgh that would finance her to return to Europe. However, it is also possible that she began or completed this portrait at a later date, perhaps the next time she returned to the United States, in 1875.

Portrait of Miss Cassatt's Father (Robert Simpson Cassatt) must have been finished before late April 1876, for it is most likely to be the work shown by the title Portrait of a Gentleman at the annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where a critic described it as a "head of an elderly gentleman, painted with much vigor and very fine in color."[4]


[1] MC to Emily Sartain, Hollidaysburg, [Pa.], June 7, [1871], in Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 74.

[2] MC to Emily Sartain, Hollidaysburg, [Pa.], July 10, [1871], in Mathews 1984, p. 75.

[3] MC to Emily Sartain, Hollidaysburg, [Pa.], July 10, [1871], in Mathews 1984, p. 75.

[4] "The Fine Arts," Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph, April 26, 1876, p. 5.

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