Mary CASSATT (1844 - 1926)

Lot 22
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Estimation :
250000 - 350000 EUR
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Result : 318 772EUR
Mary CASSATT (1844 - 1926)
° Portrait of Pierre, vers 1906 Pastel on paper laid on canvas, signed lower left 58 x 48 cm - 23 x 19 in. « As the only American in the great French Impressionist movement, Mary Cassatt holds a unique place in the history of art. When invited by Edgar Degas to join the group in 1877 she accepted with delight, as she later explained; "At last I could work in complete independence, without bothering about the eventual judgment of a jury." Her personality was already distinctive; her special characteristics of style established. Her indebtedness to Degas was nevertheless considerable since he criticized her efforts constantly during the early, formative years of her career and gave her his own high art standards to uphold. But he in turn owed much to her. Not only did she deeply appreciate his tremendous talents and lend him her criticism and praise, but she gave him a loyalty and a support which once drew from their mutual friend Camille Pissarro, when he was trying to interest his fellow artists in organizing another exhibition, the following remark: "Degas doesn’t care, he doesn’t have to sell, he will always have Miss Cassatt." Pissarro was correct. It was she who in his old age could not bear to see Degas living alone, neglected. She journeyed south to visit his niece and persuaded her to come to Paris to be with him. Throughout his life she gloried in his art, in his cultivated mind and spirit, in his frankness and biting wit. Among many things that she learned from the study of his art was the true, lively conception of a subject which she interpreted in her maternity groups, her figure studies, and her portraits. The pose is always relaxed, the attitude natural, the feeling vivid and lively. The arrangement of her compositions is never stiff or static. There is a calmness and a structural clarity about them that is both strong and forceful. There is sometimes an implied movement and, as the critic Huysmans mentioned, "a ruffle of feminine nerves" which passes through her paintings, which is actually a deeply felt reaction to the subject, an active response to its true quality. Her sense of truth is such that a homely subject is portrayed without any alleviation of coarse features or lack of prettiness (in "Woman Holding a Zinnia" for instance). This attribute of honesty and integrity was one which the French mistook for awkwardness and lack of refinement. It was actually much the same thing that Degas insisted upon in portraying his little ballet girls. He showed them also just as they were when offstage, resting, or about to leave a rehearsal. In his work this was not so much resented since theatre subjects were further removed from the daily lives of the French people than were the young women and children with homely features and awkward poses portrayed by Mary Cassatt. She often preferred an unconventional pose, as we find in her early self-portrait where she depicts herself leaning on her arm with her torso slanted on a strong diagonal. The pastel of her sister in a loge leaning forward on both arms and the sprawling pose of the little girl in « The Blue Room » are two good examples of such informality. All three of these works were executed under Degas’ direct influence during 1879 - 80. […] Her color sense, especially in her use of pastel, was greatly stimulated by Degas’ example. Her brilliant use of gorgeous colors created an unfailing luminosity. Until her eyesight weakened she used lively contrasts of color for the most part, and in her backgrounds she usually preferred to intermingle diagonal strokes of contrasting colors. Complementary colors are juxtaposed, warm colors used with cool ones, darker areas with lighter tones, and sometimes – to add an oriental note, as in the background of the portrait of Mrs. Havemeyer – she introduces a few delicate, small flower forms. Having been so thoroughly coached in her early years directly and effectively by Degas, but also through her study of old masters and her absorption of the works of Manet and Courbet, Miss Cassatt was able to assert a complete style of her own which developed gradually and flourished throughout the 1880s and ‘90s. It was only after the turn of the century, and after she returned from her trip to America, that the dividing of her interests resulted in a lessening of her talents. For the most part, she was mercilessly self-critical and did not attempt to push her work before the public. It took time, therefore, for the world to realize the full worth of this remarkable artist, whose honesty of vision was equalled by the brilliance and breadth of her technique, together with the refinement and elegance of taste which distinguishes her works. » Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt : a catalogue raisonné of the oils, pastels, watercolors, and drawings, Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970, pp. 1 et 2
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