Object Lesson: Mother and Child in the Conservatory by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), Mother and Child in the Conservatory, 1906, Oil on canvas, Museum purchase with funds contributed by Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Forgotston, 82.124

Mary Cassatt was one of the most prominent artists of her time. Born in Philadelphia, she spent most of her adult life living in France, where she became one of the few Americans—and only women—to become closely allied with the then vanguard Impressionist movement in Paris. Painter Edgar Degas invited her to show her work at some of the first Impressionist exhibitions in the 1870s. There, she was exposed to new materials and techniques that helped her arrive at the highly experimental style that eventually won her praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here, Cassatt captures a quiet moment between mother and child with a spirit of spontaneity typically lacking the more formal portraits of the time period. The seemingly conventional subject matter of Mother and Child in the Conservatory believes Cassatt’s experimentation with modern techniques and styles, as well as her at the time radical representation of real women engaged in the activities of everyday life.

Throughout her life, Cassatt was an ardent supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, often enraging her more conservative family members by showing—and selling—her art to raise funds and awareness for the cause.

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