Été (Summer) à Paris: Mary Cassatt at the Jacquemart-André


Mary Cassatt Été (1894)

In recent days, before I broke my toe, Clive and I viewed some inspiring art in Paris.

First stop was Mary Cassatt at the Musée Jacquemart-André. This small, elegant museum, which we last visited in December, offers yet another terrific temporary exhibit along with the permanent collection of Nélie Jacquemart and her husband, Édouard André.

An American Impressionist

Mary Cassatt, an American Impressionist in Paris (through 23 July) is the first retrospective in France dedicated to Cassatt (1844-1926) since her death. She spent sixty years in France and was the only American artist to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris.

Beyond the basics, neither Clive nor I knew a great deal about Cassatt and her life. The exhibit provides excellent information (and a detailed brochure in French or English) about the artist and her work. Unfortunately, given she was American and we noticed many Americans at the exhibit, the individual descriptions in each room are only in French.

Poster for the Exhibition

Jacquemart-André poster

The exhibition’s poster features part of Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878, US National Gallery).

In a sea of brilliant blues, a young girl seems to daydream (or maybe she’s tired, or bored) as she sprawls in an armchair. A small, sleeping dog curls up on the chair beside her. I was struck not only by the stunning colours but also the child’s dreamy expression and Cassatt’s ability to capture such a childhood moment.

At the invitation of her friend and colleague Edgar Degas, Cassatt exhibited Little Girl in a Blue Armchair in her first Impressionist exhibit in 1879 (the 4th Impressionist exhibit of 8 in total).

Little Girl in a Blue Armchair

Mothers and children, a nice cup of tea and a woman bathing

Cassatt never married or had children of her own, but she’s renowned partly for her lovely, loving portraits of mothers and children.

This exhibit contains many such works, almost too many for me, though I lingered before my clear favourite, the sweet and moving Sleepy Thomas Sucking His Thumb (1893, Bührle Foundation, Zurich).

Sweet sleepy Thomas

Other compelling works in this exhibit include Tasse de Thé (The Cup of Tea, 1880-81, NY Metropolitan), a portrait of Cassatt’s sister Lydia holding a cup of tea and wearing a silky swirly peach-coloured dress with a matching hat.

A nice cup of tea

I also loved the Japanese-inspired Woman Bathing, (1890-91, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago). To me this painting combines sensuality, peacefulness and an intimate privacy all at once.

Woman Bathing

Été (Summer)

Probably my favourite painting in the exhibition is Été (Summertime, 1894, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago), featured at the top of this post and below.

We viewed this painting on a hot, almost-summer day. The woman and girl both seem relaxed, almost languorous, as they gaze down at the duck and the water. And what water it is! In real life the painting seems almost to have gentle, moving swells shimmering on the canvas, all sparkling and rippling and reflecting the light, giving a simultaneous sense of serenity and movement.

Été, lazy days of summer

I left this exhibit feeling I’d learned a lot about Mary Cassatt but didn’t necessarily like many of her paintings. Later, reflecting back on them, I realised there were quite a few I really did admire.

The exhibit sparked my interest to one day learn more about this creative, independent woman. At the moment, my heart lies elsewhere, with a contemporary of Mary Cassatt.

Morisot mother & daughter – and a 2019 exhibit

One of the original members of the Impressionist movement, and the only woman at the time, was Parisienne Berthe Morisot (1841-1895).

Like Cassatt, Morisot was born into a family of certain wealth and privilege, and like Cassatt she was recognised for her exceptional artistic talents and works.

Unlike Cassatt, Morisot married, had an adored child and worked and struggled ceaselessly to balance her professional and personal life. Also unlike Cassatt, she died a terrible, untimely death (from pneumonia) at age 54.

A favourite Morisot, le berceau (the cradle), Musée d’Orsay

I’ve long loved Morisot’s paintings, spending quiet time in the rooms dedicated to her on the first floor (US second floor) of the Musée Marmottan and, most recently, reading her daughter Julie’s diary (translated and with fabulous notes and references by Jane Roberts), Growing up with the Impressionists.

A few days after the Cassatt exhibit, I revisited the Marmottan and the Passy Cemetery, where the remains of both Berthe and Julie (and their families) are interred. This will be the subject of a future post (see A Mother, a Daughter and a Cemetery in Paris).

If you’re an Impressionist fan, looking ahead (and I’ll try not to bang on about it too much in the coming months), the Musée d’Orsay has announced Berthe Morisot Female Impressionist, 18 June – 22 September 2019. To say I’m excited is an understatement. It’s sure to be a blockbuster.

Though their lives were quite different in some ways, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt had much in common, not least succeeding as talented professional women in a mostly-man’s world. They knew and respected each other as colleagues in their Paris art and Impressionist circles. If you’re interested in the American Impressionist and will be in Paris before 23 July, I highly recommend the Jacquemart-André exhibit.

Courtyard, entry and tearoom terrace (under awning) at Musée Jacquemart-André

Cheers and merci for reading. À bientôt, until next time.

One Response

  1. I also very much like the Musée Jacquemart-André.

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