Book Report: Mary Cassatt: Oils and Pastels by E. John Bullard (1976)

Book coverThis is the second of the two books I bought about Cassatt last fall (the other was entitled simply Mary Cassatt).

Of course, the book has the standard art book template: A bit of bio in the beginning and full color plates of samples of Cassatt’s work along with a couple paragraphs of text about each. It’s pleasant to revisit the works that I have most likely seen recently.

More importantly, or more notably, a couple bits from her biography stick out from this book, whether because it appears in this book and not the other I read or because I’ve new connections in knowledge that make the things stick out:

  • The book plays up the relationship between Degas and Cassatt, wondering whether they had some romance that was stifled because her father did not like Degas.
  • I mentioned in my book report on [John Singer] Sargent that he and Cassatt were contemporaries; this book says he got her a portrait commission on one of her trips to the United States (remember, gentle reader, this “middle class” young lady traveled and settled in Europe).
  • I’ll quote the book directly:

    Cassatt completely rejected Matisse’s work. In a letter to Louisine Havemeyer in March 1913, she exclaimed, “If you could see his early work! Such a commonplace vision, such weak execution, he was intelligent enough to see he could never achieve fame, so shut himself up for years and evolved this and has achieved notoriety…. It is not alone in polities that anarchy reigns, it saddens me, of course it is in a certain measure our set [the Independents] which has made this [freedom] possible.

    I think the insertion of [freedom] instead of [excrement] is pro-Matisse commentary by this book’s author and not necessarily the intent of Cassatt. But I agree with her assessment (see also my report on the monograph Matisse. With this, though, Cassatt moves easily into a second-place tie with Manet in my list of favorite Impressionists.

Worth a browse, certainly, and worth the couple of bucks I paid for it at the autumn Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale.

Side note: Interestingly, Cassatt, the nineteenth century artist died in 1926, just three years before The Iron Mask was released. They seem of two completely different eras, but history is ultimately seamless.

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