5 (Breeskin 950)
Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival
Alternate title(s): During Carnival; During Carnival (Pendant le carnaval); Pendant le carnaval; Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival; Two Women Throwing Flowers during the Carnival; Two Young Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival; Two Young Women Throwing Flowers during the Carnival
1872
Oil on canvas
25 x 21 1/2 in. (63.5 x 54.61 cm)
Inscribed lower left: Marÿ Stevenson 1872
Private collection

provenance / ownership history
From the artist
to Bella Cassatt Blair, said to be her aunt, c. 1875
by descent in the family
private collection

exhibition history
1872 Salon: ?#1433, as Pendant le carnaval
1998--99 Chicago AIC: #2, ill., as During Carnival (Pendant le carnaval), lent by private collection (Chicago, Boston)

published references
NY Times 1872: p. 3, as "Taming the Cannibal," if this is the work exhibited in the 1872 Salon as Pendant le carnaval
Mathews 1984: if this is the work exhibited at the Salon of 1872 as Pendant le carnaval: p. 66, as "her entry for the Paris Salon of 1872"; p. 99n2, as "the picture she had in the Salon at that time"; p. 107n2, as Pendant le carnaval; letters, if this is the work shown at the Salon of 1872 as Pendant le carnaval: Emily Sartain to John Sartain, February 18, 1872, pp. 92--93, as "picture for the Salon"; possibly Emily Sartain to John Sartain, March 7, 1872, p. 95, as "her picture"; MC to Emily Sartain, May 25 [1872], p. 99, as "my picture"; possibly MC to Emily Sartain, June 2 [1872], p. 100, as "my picture"; Emily Sartain to John Sartain, October 9, 1872, p. 104, as "her Carnival picture"'; Emily Sartain to John Sartain, November 17, 1872, pp. 111, 112, as "carnival picture"
Lindsay 1985: p. 38n1, as Two Young Women Throwing Flowers during the Carnival
Mathews 1987: p. 7, ill.; pp. 23--24, as Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival
Conrads 1990: p. 31, ill., as Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival
Fink 1990: p. 197; p. 392, as During the Carnival (Pendant le carnaval)
Effeny 1991: pp. 10, 46, as Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival
Mathews 1994: p. 79; p. 80, ill., as Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival
Pollock 1998: pp. 10, 93--94; p. 95, ill.; p. 96, as Two Women Throwing Flowers during the Carnival; p. 101, as During the Carnival
Weinberg 2003: p. 282, as During Carnival
Webster 2004: p. 20, as Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival
Boone 2007: p. 92, as Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival

commentary

Although some scholars have posited that Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival is the painting shown by Cassatt at the Salon of 1872 under the title Pendant le carnaval, a definitive case cannot be made at this time. The only known mention of the work in a Salon review does not describe the picture.[1] The next known published reference appears in Achille Segard's 1913 biography of the artist. According to Segard, the artist told him, "My first [Salon] painting—in 1872—represented two young women throwing bon bons on a day during Carnival. I painted it in Parma. The influence of Correggio was evident."[2] However, Cassatt's recollections (or Segard's recording of them) were sometimes faulty, as they were here, for her first Salon acceptance occurred in 1868. Might she also have forgotten that the 1872 picture depicted women throwing flowers rather than bon bons, or was the 1872 Salon painting another work entirely?

An Emily Sartain letter of October 9, 1872, discussing Cassatt's Salon picture of that year does in some details appear to describe Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival. Sartain explained to her father:

About the drapery,—it was necessarily neglected because she had not time to finish it. At the time she ought to have begun the picture she was ill in bed,—and the two or three weeks thus lost counted heavily at the end, for there is a "last day" for receiving pictures at the Salon, terrible to artists in arrears. She spent so much time on the heads, unwilling to leave them before they were satisfactory, that within a very few days before it left Parma there was yet a hand and arm and all the drapery to do—She thought it would be discreditable to her to send it with the drapery so slighted,—but I persuaded her to let it go,—I knew it would be such a blight upon her not to be represented in the Salon after working so earnestly for it—And as you know, she was accepted."[3]

The drapery in Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival does seem to have been painted rather hastily, though earlier works do not generally exhibit a great deal of concern for the drapery. Nonetheless, the faces in this painting are more carefully and skillfully delineated than those in preceding pictures, and the contrast in the degree of finish between the faces and the drapery is greater than in any other picture from 1872 or earlier.

Information regarding the provenance of the 1872 Salon picture also fails to conform precisely to the ownership history of Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival. In a letter of November 17, 1872, Sartain noted of the artist, who was living in Spain at the time, "Miss Cassatt writes in much better spirits— Her carnival picture is sold for $200,—and the Bishop likes her copy now that he sees it in the Cathedral."[4] Nancy Mowll Mathews states that Cassatt's copy of Correggio's Virgin Crowned and her Salon painting were sent together to Philadelphia where they were viewed by friends at her parents' house.[5] However, if the "carnival picture" is the 1872 Salon painting, and if it was in fact sold in that year, it seems unlikely to be Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival, which was given by the artist to Bella Cassatt Blair around 1875 according to a history provided by Blair's descendents in a 1971 letter to Breeskin. (This family history says the work was given in 1874, upon Cassatt's return to the U.S., but the artist did not return to the U.S. until 1875.)

Cassatt lived in Parma for a relatively short period of time and likely had time to produce only a small number of pictures. We have no evidence that she painted more than one carnival picture. In the early months of 1872, she drew a good deal of attention for one of her works, generally assumed to be the painting she eventually sent to the Salon. As Emily Sartain reported in a letter of March 7, "All Parma is talking of Miss Cassatt and her picture, and everyone is anxious to know her—The compliments she receives are overwhelming."[6] Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival may in fact be the 1872 Salon painting Pendant le carnaval as well as the picture that fascinated Parma, but given the questions raised by Cassatt's (possibly faulty) description of her Salon picture as a depiction of women throwing bon bons, and given the conflicts regarding the early ownership history, it is not possible at this time to state definitively that two pictures are one and the same.

Whether or not Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival is the 1872 Salon painting, it was likely painted in early 1872, given its signature, "Marÿ Stevenson." As with The Mandolin Player of 1868, Cassatt used her pseudonym when signing Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival, while the two Parma works that can be more solidly dated after June 1872 are signed "Mary Stevenson Cassatt": The Bacchante and Early Portrait. Both The Bacchante and Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival employ a "ÿ" in "Marÿ," although Cassatt's use of the umlaut or diaresis mark in these signatures appears to be more fanciful than based in any authentic orthographical rule.

Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival was Cassatt's most complex painting to date, being her first known multifigure composition and featuring details such as the necklace and flowers. As Emily Sartain recounted in the October 9, 1872, letter quoted above, Cassatt at this time was greatly concerned with facial features. In addition, as Cassatt told Segard in 1913, she was influenced by Correggio while in Parma, and the poses and gestures in Two Girls Throwing Flowers during Carnival, especially the hand in the foreground, reflect her study of Parma's Mannerist artists and the artificial motions and tapered digits of Correggio's figures in particular. Her palette remains muted in keeping with the preferences of the academic artists whom she wished to impress when exhibiting pictures at the French Salon.

The Breeskin catalogue raisonné (1970) contained only 943 works. All Breeskin numbers above 943 listed on this site were created by the Mary Cassatt Catalogue Raisonné Committee for record-keeping purposes and do not correspond to works in the Breeskin catalogue.

PAI

[1] B. H., "Art in Paris," New York Times, June 30, 1872, p. 3.

[2] Achille Segard, Mary Cassatt: Un peintre des enfants et des mères (Paris: Librairie Paul Ollendorff, 1913), p. 7.

[3] Emily Sartain to John Sartain, Ecouen, October 9, 1872, in Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 104.

[4] Emily Sartain to John Sartain, Paris, November 17, 1872, in Mathews 1984, p. 111.

[5] Nancy Mowll Mathews, Mary Cassatt: A Life (New York: Villard, 1994), p. 81.

[6] Emily Sartain to John Sartain, [Parma], March 7, 1872, in Mathews 1984, p. 95.

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keywords:
 girl
 flower
 woman
 blond
 brunette
 looking left
 carnival
 necklace
 shawl
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