Friday, May 02, 2008

May Artist #1: Mary Cassatt

I'd initially resolved to only study artists that I wasn't already familiar with for my May Artist Project, but I've never formally studied Mary Cassatt since I've started doing art seriously.

I remember, though (warning! childhood reminiscing alert!), that when I was growing up, my mom had a big book of Mary Cassatt's works. One of those huge, glossy affairs with tons of color images. Anyway, I remember sitting on the couch and just reading it again and again (yes, I was a small, strange child). My absolute favorite was Little Girl in a Straw Hat and I used to just stare at that page. I don't know why. Probably a deficiency in some vitamin.

Anyway, I decided today that I wanted to see if Mary Cassatt still held the same fascination for me nowadays and . . . she does. So here she is, and I'm determined to find out why.

Okay. So first, I had to get over just going ooooh I likey when I was looking at the images and find out why I liked them. You know, like a grown up. So, here's why I think I like her work:





  • Colored whites and light colors. Look at how interesting she makes her light colors. For that matter, look at how much of her work is a light color.
  • Wonderful gestural line. These are real people doing real things. Look at how floppy and jointless her kids are, like real kids, and yet have perfect anatomy. I can almost pinch the baby fat and smell the old diapers.
  • Faces. She has great expression in all of her portraits' faces, and yet the eyes are very understated. A lot of them don't even have catchlights. I'm thinking, after looking at them, that the reason she can pull this off is because so much of the personality is expressed in the body language.
  • Colors. I'm a sucker for limited palette and although I don't think I could ever use her springy pastel palette, I like how few colors she uses for each piece.
  • Multiple subjects. She handles multiple subjects effortlessly. Look at that one of the mum and the sister kissing the baby. Three subjects -- not competing for attention a bit. Perfect balance.
  • Composition/ cropping. She has great diagonals. Look at how in so many of her pieces she has diagonal lines drawing your eye through the piece.

Seeing her work makes me want to get out my pencils and do a piece with just 10 pencils. It also makes me want to sketch my kids from life some more. Something with a lot of white . . . I might do a quick study tomorrow to see if I can incorporate that personality in gesture rather than in face.

Here are links for those interested in further study: here, here, and here.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie, I like Mary Cassett too.If you get to teach in the Boston area, I hope time would allow you to visit the Clark Museum in Williamstown,Mass to see some of her works up close and personal.It is a treat!

Cheryl A. Pass said...

I have two of those wonderful glossy books on Mary Cassatt. You are so right about her compositions, expressions, colors, etc. There is such a fine quality of drawing apparent in her paintings. I never tire of her work. I can see you doing your children and the terriers with her in mind....

Casey Klahn said...

I look forward to your study. She is my patron saint, of course.

Bonnie Luria said...

Thank you Maggie for making the " study " of great art, succinct, interesting and fun. How often we look at work we love and say. " I don't know why I like it but I do?".
This exercise of yours opens the door to viewing things with an editors eye.
Sadly, my art history teacher many decades ago was a drone, a boor, and spoke with the enthusiasm of an android. As a result, I ( and most of the class ) slept right through it.
You've begun a very thoughtful and useful dialogue here.
Thank you for giving this to us.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Mags I can usually hang with your digressions, but MC? Yep, all true what you say, the diagonal, limited pallette, great composition,etc etc. But it takes me so much to get over the sour milk,sugary sweet pink babies. Not that I have anything against any of those things, but not what I enjoy art wise. Shes a master whose time has gone, but I kindof like that you are forcing me to look. Had to look. You made me look!

Barbara Pask said...

I like her, I like the subjects and the colors she used. Thank you for making us take a closer look at her. Barb

Casey Klahn said...

http://pastelblog.artistsnetwork.com/Mary+Cassatt+And+Me.aspx

There's a sappy YT of the old girl at the pastel Journal Blog you may have missed. But, knowing how much you love sap...

Anyway, the extra links are informative, too.

Casey Klahn said...

TPJ Blog Post

That's better.

Amy said...

I never get tired of Mary Casset. I can set & look at her paintings over & over again. I also love her prints.
She is the artist that warms me up & gets my juices going. i do children's portraits. can't wait to see your sketches.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Maggie - Mary Cassatt was a great friend of Degas and together they both studied Japanese Art and the woodblock prints - which had a significant influence on composition and limited palette.

Don't forget to take a look at my information site Mary Cassett - Resources for Artists. Lots of good links - it'll save you some time!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Anon - thanks for the tip!

Cheryl -- You and are thinkin' on the same brain wavelength.

Casey - really!? (oh, and thanks for the linkage)

Bonnie -- I had a very dry art history book in grade school with black and white (!) photographs. Thank goodness for the web! And you're very welcome!

2nd Anon -- awww, it's good for you. Like when I studied Van Gogh. Blech.

Barb - you're welcome!

Amy -- I can definitely see how MC would get you inspired for portraits.

Katherine - yep, I knew she was buddies with Degas -- I prefer her work to his, though.