Mary Cassatt

Original Prints: Soft-Ground Etchings, Aquatints and Drypoint Engravings


One of the grandes dames of French Impressionism, and a close friend of Edgar Degas*, Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844 - 1926) first came to Paris to study art in 1866, and in 1874 settled there; she would exhibit in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879, invited by Edgar Degas. 

The same year, again in concert with Degas, she began to explore printmaking, experimenting with different techniques: aquatint, drypoint, soft-ground etching, selective wiping to create textures, and hand-coloring...  she would produce over 200 prints in her lifetime.

Mary Cassatt, Lydia Reading, Turned Toward Right, soft-ground etching with aquatint, circa 1881

Lydia Reading, Turned toward Right

Breeskin 63.2

soft-ground etching with aquatint, circa 1881, the second state (of II), a rare and superb impression, signed by the artist in pencil, with a prestigious provenance (Ambroise Vollard, apparently acquired from Ms. Cassatt directly), and H. M. Petiet

This atmospheric print, backlighting her older sister in an armchair set against a finely draped window, is a tribute to Lydia's quiet resignation in the face of persistent illness.

The two sisters were quite close: Lydia lived with Mary Cassatt in Paris from 1874 until the time of her premature death in 1882, when she succumbed to Bright’s disease, the term given at the time to acute or chronic nephritis.


Mary Cassatt, Bill lying in his Mother's Lap, soft-ground etching with aquatint, circa 1889

Bill Lying on His Mother's Lap

Breeskin 101.4b

soft-ground etching with aquatint, circa 1889, a rare and undescribed intermediate state, between the fourth and the fifth state (of V), a superb working proof impression of the utmost rarity, signed by the artist with her monogram, lower left, with a prestigious provenance (Ambroise Vollard, apparently acquired from Ms. Cassatt directly), and H. M. Petiet

A superb impression of this intimistic print, Bill and his mother were the subject of more than a dozen works in various media.  Following Lydia's death, Mary Cassatt turned almost obsessively to rendering the theme of motherhood one of her most significant contributions to modern art.

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* This was a longstanding friendship, although rather curious, insofar as Degas was reputed to be a gruff misogynist.  (See Norma Broude, "Degas's Misogyny", The Art Bulletin, vol. 59, Mars 1977, p. 95-107.)

Mary Cassatt wrote to her friend Louisine Havemeyer, "How well I remember ... seeing for the first time Degas' pastels in the window of a picture dealer on the Boulevard Haussmann.  I used to go and flatten my nose against the window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life.  I saw art then as I wanted to see it."  (in Breeskin 1979, p. 13)

Degas's appreciation was reciprocal, yet rather more condescending: while viewing one of Mary Cassatt's pictures, he is said to have muttered, "Je n'admets pas qu'une femme dessine aussi bien!"  (Achile Segard, Mary Cassatt : Un Peintre des enfants et des mères, Paris, 1913, p.58)