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Mary Cassatt, "Feeding the ducks", circa 1895, collections Jacques Doucet © Bibliothèque de l’Institut national d’histoire de l’art

So although she painted children with extraordinary sensitivity and accuracy, Cassatt never had any children herself. It is instructive to compare her very tender and intimate paintings of mothers and babies with Berthe Morisot’s painting of the same subject. Morisot married Eduard Manet’s brother and had a daughter with him. She painted her child as a baby — but not with herself. Instead,  she painted her daughter with the nanny.

The absence of domestic servants in Cassatt’s pictures is striking, because mothers belonging to the prosperous classes that Cassatt’s models came from did not do much childcare themselves. It would have been much truer to day-to-day reality to show those babies with their nannies, as Morisot did.

Cassatt’s decision not to do so may have had a commercial basis: paintings of servants and babies would probably not sell in the same way to those babies’ mothers, who were Cassatt’s clients. There may also have been a political element to that choice: Cassatt may have been trying to emphasise the importance of the mother-child bond, and the value of mothers, rather than nannies, looking after their own children. That bond was an essential part of “the sweetness of childhood . . . the charm of womanhood”. But Cassatt seems to have been aware that it was not natural in the sense of being inevitable: wealthy mothers needed to be encouraged not to contract out motherhood to paid help.

When Mary Cassatt died in 1926, she had not painted a picture for more than a decade. By the end of 1914 her eyesight had deteriorated to such an extent that it was impossible for her to see even large objects clearly, let alone draw them accurately.

She wasn’t sure whether any of her pictures was good enough to survive the test of time. Her response to anyone who said her work that would pass that test was: “Who knows?” The exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André demonstrates that we now have the answer to that question. It is a glorious testament to the enduring power of her art.
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amcdonald
May 30th, 2018
5:05 PM
All very true and informative. Our Royal Academy hasn`t invited Akiane Kramarik or Stella Vine (see websites) to exhibit yet. Akiane is showing in Australia and Stella at Alnwick Museum in January. Their work wipes the floor with that of the RA`s.

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