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Child’s Bath

Mary Cassatt, 1893
Collection: 
Art Institute of Chicago

 

A contemporary of Cassatt admired her paintings of mothers and children:

“It would seem, however, that Miss Cassatt has found her true bent in her recent pictures of children and in the delineation of happy maternity. Here she has caught with great fidelity the beauty of child life and the dignity of motherhood, fitting subjects for the artist’s brush, ennobling material for intellectual investigation. These she has portrayed with delicacy, refinement, and sentiment. Her technic [sic] appeals equally to the layman and the artist, and her color has all the tenderness and charm that accompanies so engaging a motif.”

Arthur Hoeber, “The Century’s American Artist Series: Mary Cassatt,” Century Magazine, no. 57 (March 1899); reprinted in Sarah Burns and John Davis, American Art to 1900: A Documentary History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 837-8.

 

Steven Buettner notes the significance of the motherhood theme in the late nineteenth century:

“It was during this time, during the Third Republic, that the subject of Modern Motherhood received its first thoroughgoing, unsentimental treatment by two artists working in France: Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. These painters began to examine, tentatively at first, the psychological relationship between mother and child. From the time of the Renaissance, women artists who treated this subject purged it first of its religious and then of its historical, mythological, and sentimental overtones. Traditional compositions, however, were often preserved.”

Stewart Buettner, “Images of Modern Motherhood in the Art of Morisot, Cassatt, Modersohn-Becker, Kollwitz,” Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1986 - Winter 1987): 15.


Griselda Pollock offers insight into Cassatt’s compositional choices in The Child’s Bath :

“In The Child’s Bath… Cassatt again used contrasts of patterned areas to enliven and construct the painted surface against which the plain towel and the naked body of the child achieve pictorial prominence… in the painting Cassatt employed a more acute angle of vision, viewing the scene from above so that the space depicted is tilted sharply upwards towards the plane of the canvas. Yet the solidity of the forms, the opposing diagonals of the figures and the contrasts of texture deny this purely decorative tendency… the effect of the angle of vision is to concentrate attention on the two figures, whose gaze reinforces the direction of the spectator’s look toward the activity in which they are both engaged. By this means the image of mother and child is pruned of many of its traditional emotional associations. Thus in contrast to Cassatt’s previous work, in which formal devices were manipulated to engage interest in the unexpected symbolic meanings of a mundane act, a very structured composition is deployed here in order to emphasize the actions of rather than the relationship between mother and child.”

Griselda Pollock, Mary Cassatt. London: Chaucer, 2005, p. 110.

 

About the Artist

Born: Pittsburgh, PA, 25 May 1844
Died: Le Mesnil-Théribus, 14 June 1926
Nationality: American