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Sister Wendy's American Collection
Selected Works





Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mary Cassatt, American (1844-1926)
1880
Oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 25 7/8 in. (100.3 x 65.8 cm)
Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest
Acquired in 1962


Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest



Mary Cassatt, one of the few women and the only American in the French Impressionist circle of artists, settled in Paris in 1866. The 22-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found her initial attempts at pursuing an education and a career in art thwarted: The prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris did not admit female students, and the Salon refused to exhibit her paintings for the same reason. Her friendship with Edgar Degas eventually gave her entrée to the Paris art world, and in 1879 she became the only American to exhibit her work in the Impressionists' fourth show.

Cassatt's early work, like this one, displayed the powerful influence of the Impressionists in color, brushwork, and play of light on her subjects. The depiction of the subject is also unmistakably Impressionist: Mother and child are unposed, natural, caught in the moment. Her approach to her subject, however, was different from that of her colleagues. Male artists generally portrayed women sensually, as objects of beauty and adoration. Cassatt did not sentimentalize or objectify her subject. Instead, she chose to portray the mother in an utterly domestic act, bathing her child. This painting was one of Cassatt's earliest examples of the mother-child theme.

During the late 1880s Cassatt took up printmaking, drawing inspiration from Japanese artists who often depicted similar domestic subject matter. By the time failing eyesight forced her to stop working in 1911, she had become one of America's most accomplished printmakers.

Cassatt's contribution to Impressionism, though creative and artistic, was also commercial: As a wealthy American, she encouraged family and friends to buy Impressionist paintings for their collections. She played a critical role in selecting many of the works that reside in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Mary Cassatt's Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child was acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1962. The painting is part of LACMA's American Art collection, the oldest in the museum, established in 1916.


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