Art media

Thoughts on various artistic mediums, why use pastel, part 25

Mary Cassatt – Pastels – Late Years / Studies on Mother and Child

Some time ago we started an exploration of two-dimensional artistic media and focused on the lesser-known medium of pastel. Currently, a continuing look at a second famous female pastellist, Mary Cassatt (Rosalba Carriera of Venice which has already been discussed at length was the first.) Era, after which the use of pastels faded until its rediscovery by Degas and Whistler, two important impressionists, as well as our investigation of today’s artist-Mary Cassatt.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) was born in Alleghany City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh) and lived most of her adult life in France where she became a leading female member of the Impressionist movement and a friend. close to Edgar Degas. To this day, we have covered his life through his early successes as an American independent artist living in Europe in the 1870s through his growing frustration with the Paris Salon politics in the late 1870s, thus joining the Impressionist movement after Degas’ invitation to join their 1878 Exhibition. At the same time, the two artists worked intensely together on a Journal project, a project that never came to fruition; However, as a result of this intense collaboration, they were to remain friends for life. By the 1890s, Cassatt had become a powerful artist through her own highly developed skills, including her experiences with printmaking which were heavily influenced by an exhibition of Japanese masters. And it was in 1894 that Mary bought Château Beaufresne where she and her family spent the summer for the rest of her life.

Cassatt is probably best known for her portraits and studies of female figures, privileged women, the same social strata she came from and to whom she had easy access. She chooses most often to portray the daily life of her subjects, her innate creativity coupled with her willingness to devote herself to honing her skills shines in her work as she gains confidence and experience. In his mature works, Cassatt, more than many of his contemporaries, demonstrated a complex understanding of modernist technique, choosing to leave areas of his compositions unfinished, which created a draftsman’s spontaneity. Called nonfinite or “unfinished”, Mary has undoubtedly taken up this practice from Edouard Manet, another of her mentors. In contrast to these open spaces, there were passages of densely colored pastel. For example, in the work of Mary Adaline Havemeyer in a White Hat there is the traditional smooth rendering of the subject’s face and hair with extremely detailed hair and eyes and in the subject’s hand grabbing a suggested necklace. . The subject’s hat and ruffled blouse are also nude sketches while the background is an intense-gorgeous turquoise blue tone. Another work from a similar period was Mother and Child (1898 for the hat, and 1906 for the latter which employs the same techniques). The face, in particular the profile, and the hair of the mother are most carefully represented while that of the child is more simply drawn. Again, a large area is an open field and the background color – a bright yellow green – and the mother’s shirt – a rich blue – provide an intensity that contracts with the child’s shirt and sketched clothes. .

Cassatt Adaline Havemeyer in a white hat, probably started in 1898. Pastel on woven paper.
Mother and Child, 1906 pastels.

Marie’s reserves (unstained areas) deliberately took advantage of the color of the leaf. While Cassatt preferred blue paper, there was, and there is, a wide variety of hues available that were used extensively by his fellow pastellists. These colored bases were comparable to the tinted bases applied to the canvases used by the Impressionists. The tinted canvas offered an element of color that offered additional play against the loosely painted strokes characteristic of the Impressionist style. Today, most of these colored papers have turned a warm brown, as the examples above show, due to the unstable synthetic aniline dyes (the earliest coal tar colors) used in their manufacture, a tonal alteration clearly unintended by the artists who used them.

Cassatt’s experimentation with imparting luminosity is perhaps the most modernistic feature of her in the White Hat portrayal. One of the main areas of interest of the Impressionist was to be interested in the representation of the effect of light. One of the attractions of pastel resides in its particular optical qualities: the scattered light is reflected by a multitude of particles at a microscopic level as well as the light reflected by the irregular surface of the composition itself. (Pastel naturally produces an uneven, rough texture with each stroke, a textural roughness that further amplifies the light.) These layers created a luminosity, a total contrast to the carefully glazed surfaces of living room art, reminiscent of the qualities frescoes, gouache and tempera, much appreciated by avant-garde artists of the time.

Brightness of skin and hair.

Cassatt used this distinctive light-fracturing quality of pastel in her portrait of mother and child, applying the pastel in a dense and irregular manner, as well as manipulating its powdery texture. The luminous flesh of mother and child and the green background also testify to his mastery of the medium. While Mary used direct flat strokes for the hair and dress, the pastel in these sections has grain when viewed at an angle. Cassatt’s unusual texture is not the result of the traditional application of dry pastels or water-soaked pastel sticks (another texture technique). Rather, it is the result of an experimental technique developed by Cassatt while working with steam on paper.

More information on pastels and the final years of Mary’s painting career which focused heavily on studies of the mother and the unborn child. And more of his works which are well known and beloved.

Janet Cornacchio is a member of the Front Street Art Gallery, president of the Scituate Arts Association and a real estate agent. You can contact her at [email protected]