Thursday, June 5, 2014

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt a Collaborative Friendship, Part I

If you are fortunate enough to be in Washington, DC, the National Gallery of Art has an interesting exhibit for all you admirers of Degas and Cassatt.  Behind-the-scenes-stories are always fascinating and this exhibit which runs through October 9, describes the working relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.

And from the article in the Wall Street Journal , (06/03/14), "Leisure & Arts," page D-5,  "It subtly re-calibrates  our understanding our nuanced dialogue carried on in the work of two artists who operated not as mentor and protegee," but as collaborative artists who respected and admired each other's work.

Degas invited Cassatt to show her painting, "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair" (1878) at the Impressionist show of 1879--but he suggested changes and not only did he suggest changes, he even worked on the background.  How do they know this?  Recent x-rays show this, his brush strokes in the background and her alternations of some of his brush strokes.  Can you imagine someone altering your painting--there has to be trust between you, but she painted over his brush strokes.

The exhibit of 70 works on paper and canvas shows how they experimented with unusual angles and worked with many mediums: gouache, pastels, distemper (an oil based paint).  

The two of them experimented with combining mediums, unorthodox postions of their subjects and always, Degas promoted Cassatt as a talented artist, unusual in those days, the 19th century, where women did not play a starring role in business or in art.  He even said, "No woman had a right to paint like that."  

Degas was a "flaneur" a man at leisure to roam.  In those days if a man had season tickets to the ballet, the opera, he could visit these places, at leisure, even going backstage and visiting the dressing rooms.  This is what gave Degas and others a glimpse into another world that was not open to "proper women."  Mary Cassatt's subjects were on the "other side," the audience at the opera or ballet or the many paintings she did of children and families.

There is so much more to write, this will be a two part post.  Meanwhile, a lovely painting of Mary Cassatt in 1884 by Degas.  He was 50 years old, she was 40.
Mary Cassatt.Oil on Canvas.  Edgar Degas.  Dover Publications


  1. That is a touching portrait of Cassatt. I'm also a fan of Degas' work. Will be back for Part 2. It seems from what I've read, that they had a friend to mentor relationship, but platonic could work too.

  2. You can't imagine allowing someone to alter your painting can you? Quite a friendship.

  3. What a relationship! Such trust.

  4. You can't get enough of Degas, can you Natasha! The caption under this painting should be "Come on, take a card, take any card".
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

    1. I love it! Bazza, so do you want to read my political .laments? Probably not. I guess what I liked when I read about this exhibit was that here was an American woman, living in Paris in the 19th c. amidst an almost misogynist society, finding a famous mentor (Degas) who appreciated her talent without the typical French romantic/sexual attraction.

  5. HI Nat - another great post .. and briefly looking at some of her other paintings .. I can see the influences of the styles developing in Paris at that time .. the Impressionists, Pointillism and other new modern ways of painting.

    How extraordinary to think of Degas painting over her work .. and then she repainted over that to bring it back to the way she wanted it .. I find it fascinating that we can discover so much via our technological developments ...

    This lady is a great find and thanks for posting about her .. wonderful .. her pictures are lovely ... I need to read properly .. and I will when the 2nd post comes up - I shall be waiting ... cheers Hilary

  6. Hi Nat .. did my first comment not get through? Is it in moderation or even spam?

    I'm distressed because I know I came by at the weekend and commented.

    I hadn't heard of Cassatt - but what a fascinating woman .. and I think I prefer her art work in some ways to Degas .. there's a little more clarity .. and I'd be mortified if someone painted over my work .. no wonder she reinstated it ...

    And I know I commented on Seurat .. and her introduction to French painters - how incredible she was in Paris at that time .. I loved reading about her .. and am looking forward to your 2nd post ...

    I hope my other comment appears at some stage .. cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary: Because we have had intense rain and lightning storms every afternoon for the past week, we turn off our electronics so we don't lose them. Which of course means, no computer time for hours. Perhaps that is what happened. Anyway thanks for writing. Sunny days for the next two--yea!