Mary Cassatt

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

Bill Lying on his Mother's Lap

Breeskin 101

soft-ground etching with aquatint, circa 1889, an undescribed intermediate state, which we have designated as 4b — between four and five (of V) — a superb working proof impression of the utmost rarity, signed by the artist with her monogram in pencil, lower left, with a partial coat-of-arms watermark, on cream medium-weight laid paper, some slight and smudgy ink stains below and a few smaller spots above the platemark to the left, a deckle edge on the right, short marginal undulations, right and below, what would appear to be a broader platemark in the extreme lower margin, several annotations along the lower edge in pencil, probably by Henri M. Petiet, otherwise in excellent condition

P. 178x137mm., S. 310x237mm.

Provenance: Ambroise Vollard (most probably acquired directly from the artist herself*), and subsequently Henri M. Petiet

This intimist print is one of Mary Cassatt's poignant representations of motherhood, a theme she took up almost obsessively after the death of Lydia; it should be noted too that neither of the sisters ever married or had children.  Adelyne Breeskin (Mary Cassatt, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Graphic Work, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1979,  p.18) identified this theme as one of Mary Cassatt's most significant achievements:

"Her incomparable renderings of the mother and child theme will probably always be considered her main contribuution to the history of art... 
This is indeed an original art, since no woman had ever previously recorded it and no man ever could."

Achille Segard also wrote to this effect as of 1913, and his words are still clearly pertinent:  see

Mary Cassatt, Bill lying on his Mother's lap, MMA

The present impression of this print requires some study, insofar as it does not correspond to any of the known states.**

The fourth state (right), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art*** (which Adeline Breeskin also used to illustrate the catalogue raisonné) shows a more variegated, almost blotchy, background as compared to the present impression, though it is unclear if this is a result of rebiting the aquatint or selective wiping by the artist.

The fifth state (the final state, below, an impression of which we have only been able to identify from a Christie's sale**** on October 30, 2007) has, as Breeskin described it, "the background is greatly toned down, baby's face without shading." There also seems to be an overall softening of the shaded areas. Our impression still has the fine shading around the baby's right cheek, whereas other features visible on the child in the fourth state impression, notably the wide left eybrow,the double inner contour of his lower right leg, or the awkward lines on the inner right thigh, have been burnished down.
Mary Cassatt, Bill lying on his Mother's Lap, fifth state
 Furthermore, there appears to be finer highlighting in the mother's hair (much closer in values to the second state impression in San Francisco, cf. infra), her ear seems to have been tonally heightened (some of which may simply be selective inking and wiping), and the concave line that is clearly visible in our impression, marking her sleeve from her left shoulder down to the child's shoulder, has been effaced.

, three diagonal pleats appear to have been added at the waist in the mother's dress.

In conclusion, the present impression is clearly a working proof (as may also be ascertained by the diagonal slipped strokes across the mother's forward shoulder, as well as the child's left shoulder, which were also burnished out), with selective wiping to effect. 

As there was never an identifiable edition, even of the final state, the present impression of an undescribed state 4b is of the utmost rarity.

*  In the catalogue Mary Cassatt: Prints and Drawings from the Artist's Studio  (Adelson et al., Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 2000), Warren Adelson discusses (Foreword, pp. 9-11) Ambroise Vollard's acquisition of the Artist's Studio prints directly from Mary Cassatt between 1904 and 1906, and which he kept for years until his untimely death.

**  Other earlier states of interest are:

  -  1st state:

  -  2nd state (similarly monogrammed):

***  See

****  See