83 (Breeskin 77)
Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Alternate title(s): A Family Group; Bible Reading---Portrait of Mary Cassatt's Mother (Mrs. Robert S. Cassatt, the Former Miss Katherine Kelso) with Three Grandchildren; Family Group; Family Group: Katherine Cassatt and Her Grandchildren; Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren; Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren (Eddie, Elsie and Katherine [sic]); Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren; Family Group (Portraits); Family Group Reading; Grandmother Reading to Her Children; Grandmother Reading to the Children; Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren; La lecture; La lecture (Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren); Lecture; Mme Cassatt lisant à ses petits enfants (Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren); Portraits; The Family Group
1880
Oil on canvas
22 x 39 1/2 in. (55.88 x 100.33 cm)
Inscribed lower left: Mary Cassatt
Private collection

provenance / ownership history
From the artist
possibly to Durand-Ruel, Paris, April 1882 (if this is #2296 in 1880--82 stock book)
Moïse Dreyfus, Paris, after December 20, 1881
to Alexander J. Cassatt, brother of the artist, probably by late 1883 or early 1884
to his son Robert K. Cassatt, by 1920, and by descent in family
to his son Anthony D. Cassatt, by 1960
private collection
to private collection

exhibition history
1881 Impressionist Exh: #1, as La lecture
1885 Pennsylvania Academy: #62, as Family Group (Portraits), lent by Alexander J. Cassatt
1886 National Academy NY: #309, as Family Group, lent by A. J. Cassatt, Esq.
1895 Durand-Ruel NY: #31, as Portraits, lent by a private collection
1920b Pennsylvania Academy: #46, as Family Group, lent by Robert K. Cassatt
1927 Penn Museum: #6, as The Family Group
1928 Carnegie Institute: #8, as Grandmother Reading to Her Children
1939 Haverford PA: #3, as Grandmother Reading to the Children, lent by Robert K. Cassatt
1941--42 Baltimore Museum: #8, as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren, lent by Robert Kelso Cassatt
1960 Phila Museum: no #, as Bible Reading---Portrait of Mary Cassatt's Mother (Mrs. Robert S. Cassatt, the Former Miss Katherine Kelso) with Three Grandchildren
1981 Isetan Japan: #14, ill., as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
1984 Coe Kerr NY: #9, ill., as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren, lent anonymously
1985 Phila Museum: #7, ill., as Family Group: Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren, lent by private collection
1995 Isetan Japan: #40, ill., as Mme Cassatt lisant à ses petits enfants (Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren), lent by private collection

published references
Dalligny 1881: p. 335 in Berson, as Lecture
de Charry 1881: p. 334 in Berson, as Lecture
de Montagnac 1881: p. 361 in Berson, as Lecture
Diguef 1881: p. 12, as "la femme dans un fauteuil"
Geffroy 1881: p. 343 in Berson, as Lecture
Goetschy 1881: p. 344 in Berson, as Lecture
Hoschedé 1881: p. 348 in Berson, as La lecture
NY Evening Post 1881: p. 4, as La lecture
Trianon 1881: p. 367 in Berson, as La lecture
Valabrègue 1881: p. 369 in Berson, as Lecture
Huysmans 1883b: p. 350 in Berson, as "mère lisant, entourée de galopins"
Philadelphia Telegraph 1885: p. 3, as A Family Group
Art Interchange 1886: p. 193, as "a family group of a mother and children, painted also in oil, but looking much like a pastel"
Critic 1886: p. 275, as "a middle aged lady in white, reading . . . with three children"
NY Herald 1886: p. 8, as Family Group
NY Times 1886: p. 5, as A Family Group
NY Times 1895b: p. 4, as "old lady and three children"
Walker, S. 1895: p. 7, as "grandmother with children about her"
Art News 1927b: p. 2, as Family Group
Grafly 1927a: p. 9, as Family Group
Brinton 1939: n.p., as Grandmother Reading to the Children
Breeskin 1948: p. 59, "oil painting of a similar compostion [to #58]"
Carson 1966: pp. 67, 68, 87--88, as Family Group
Sweet 1966: pp. 59, 71, 87, as "Mrs. Cassatt reading"; p. 139, as Family Group Reading
Lowe, D. 1973: p. 98, as "her mother reading to . . . grandchildren"
Hale, N. 1975: p. 103, as "Mrs. Cassatt . . . with . . . three . . . children"; p. 114, as Family Group
Breeskin 1979: p. 49, as "An oil painting of a similar composition"
Love 1980: pp. 45, 46, as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Mathews 1981: p. 60, as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren
Mathews 1984: p. 159, ill.; pp. 170n1, 197n1, as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren; p. 160n2, as "the painting"; letters: Katherine Cassatt to Katharine Cassatt, April 15 [1881], p. 159, as "the one she painted of you & Rob & Elsie listening to me"; MC to Alexander Cassatt, June 22 [1883], pp. 169-70, as "the group of Mother & the children"; MC to Alexander Cassatt, August 3 [1883], p. 171, as one of the "pictures"; MC to Alexander Cassatt, October 14 [1883], p. 172, as "the family group"; Katherine Cassatt to Alexander Cassatt, November 30 [1883], p. 174, as one of the "pictures"; MC to Alexander Cassatt, January 5, 1884, p. 177, as "the one of Mother and the children"
Seldin 1984: n.p., fig. 9, ill., as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Gordon 1985: pp. 52--53, ill., as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Lindsay 1985: pp. 20, 23, 45, 46--48; p. 46, ill.; pp. 55, 74, 90, 93, 95n9, as Family Group
Wissman 1986: pp. 348--49; p. 349, ill.; p. 350, 352, 353, as La lecture (Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren)
Mathews 1987: p. 52, ill.; pp. 57, 59, 113, as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Effeny 1991: pp. 22, 70; p. 71, ill., as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Pollock 1993: p. 220; p. 221, ill., as Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Mathews 1994: pp. 154--55; p. 155, ill.; pp. 156, 159, as Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Gruitrooy 1996: p. 23; pp. 24--25, ill. (detail), as Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren (Eddie, Elsie and Katherine [sic]); pp. 37, 38, as Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Pollock 1998: p. 11, as Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren; p. 27, ill. in installation photograph of 1927 Penn Museum exhibition; p. 29, as one of "[figs.] 108--34" [margin note]; p. 136, as "[figs.] 95, 128" [margin note]; p. 138, ill.; p. 153, ill., as Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren; p. 185, as "painting of her mother reading to the grandchildren"; p. 186, as Katherine Cassatt and Her Grandchildren
Springfield MFA 1999: p. 187n11, as Katherine Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren
Meyers 2005: p. 266, as Family Group: Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren

commentary

Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren, when shown for the first time at the Impressionist exhibition of 1881, received a great deal of positive attention from critics. The artist's mother, Katherine Cassatt, wrote of the painting to her granddaughter Katharine on April 15, 1881, "Do you remember the one [Aunt Mary] painted of you & Rob & Elsie listening to me reading fairy tales? She finished it after you left & it is now at the exhibition—A gentleman wants to buy it but I don’t think your Aunt Mary will sell it—she could hardly sell her mother & nieces & nephew I think."[1]

The work was still hanging in the Cassatts' Paris apartment on December 20, 1881, when the artist's father, Robert Cassatt, wrote to granddaughter Katharine, "We have it hanging up in our dining room and it keeps us always in mind of you & makes me wish often & often that I could hear your little voices call as I heard them when the picture was being painted."[2]

In fact, Cassatt did sell Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren to Moïse Dreyfus, a friend whose pastel portrait she had made around 1878–79, Mr. Moyse Dreyfus. It is not known whether the artist sold the work directly to Dreyfus or whether Durand-Ruel sold Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren to him. Durand-Ruel's stock books from 1880 to 1882 list a work titled Le[s] favoris as having been purchased from the artist in April 1882.[3] While the title Le[s] favoris ("The Favorites") has been associated with Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child, it seems more likely to describe Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren, which Dreyfus purchased at some point between December 20, 1881, and June 22, 1883.

Cassatt's family was not pleased that she had sold Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren, and they campaigned for the picture to be returned to them. Cassatt wrote to her brother Alexander on June 22, 1883:

Dreyfus told me finally that I might have the group of Mother & the children for you. I would rather keep it myself but I know he would not be pleased if I made him give it up to anyone but you. He won't take back the money for the picture, I am either to paint a portrait of his wife or if she won't consent to that I am to give them another picture; so as soon as the London exhibition is over I will send you Elsies portrait [Elsie Cassatt Holding a Big Dog] and the group.[4]

In a letter to Alexander Cassatt dated October 14, 1883, Cassatt wrote that she had mailed Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren to Alexander on August 10.[5] It is not known exactly when the picture arrived in the United States, but additional family letters express hope that it would be delivered first by November 1883 and then by January 1884.[6]

No additional information regarding the exchange with Moïse Dreyfus has yet been located. No portrait of his wife has emerged, leading to the conclusion that Cassatt probably gave Dreyfus Lilacs in a Window, the only other picture by the artist that he is known to have owned, in addition to his pastel portrait, Mr. Moyse Dreyfus.

PAI

[1] Katherine Cassatt to Katharine Cassatt, Paris, April 15, [1881], in Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 159.

[2] Mary Cassatt and Philadelphia, ed. Suzanne G. Lindsay (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985), exh. cat., p. 46.

[3] This title is known only through a transcription of the Durand-Ruel stock book entry in the Breeskin archive, Mary Cassatt Catalogue Raisonné Committee, Adelson Galleries, New York, N.Y., where it is rendered as Le favoris.

[4] MC to Alexander Cassatt, Paris, June 22, [1883], in Mathews 1984, pp. 169–70. The portrait of Elsie to which Cassatt refers in this letter (Elsie Cassatt Holding a Big Dog) had been sent by Durand-Ruel to be exhibited at Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell's, London, in the spring of 1883. The situation regarding Dreyfus's ownership of Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren is also discussed in an unpublished letter from Robert Cassatt to Alexander Cassatt, July 23, 1883 (Philadelphia Museum of Art). In this letter, Robert complains that Dreyfus should have agreed to a simple monetary refund instead of expecting an equivalent picture in exchange, which, Robert laments, will have to be one of Mary's "best efforts."

[5] MC to Alexander Cassatt, Paris, October 14, [1883], in Mathews 1984, p. 172.

[6] Katherine Cassatt to Alexander Cassatt, Paris, November 30, [1883], in Mathews 1984, p. 174; MC to Alexander Cassatt, Tarragona, January 5, 1884, in Mathews 1984, p. 177.

[Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren (No. 1) [acquatint]]
[Mrs. Cassatt Reading to Her Grandchildren (No. 2) [softground etching]

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