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Mary Cassatt

Born: 1844, Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, United States of America
Died: 1926, Mesnil-Theribus, Oise, France

Jenny and Her Sleepy Child
c. 1891–92

Oil on canvas
Image: 28 15/16 x 23 3/4 in. (73.5 x 60.3 cm)
Frame: 38 1/8 x 33 3/16 in. (96.8 x 84.3 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1988.24
Signed: Lower right: Mary Cassatt
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Jenny and her Sleepy Child is typical of the intimate yet unsentimental images of mothers and children for which Mary Cassatt is best known. Wearing only a white chemise, the sturdy small child, his head forward and eyelids lowered in post-nap sleepiness, sprawls across his mother's ample lap as she leans forward to support his relaxed weight, her head turned as if to follow his drowsy gaze. Their bodies are additionally linked as she grasps his left hand in hers. The painting appears unfinished, with the skirt over the woman's knees a sketchy mass of unblended blue and white strokes and the outer edges of the canvas bare except for the white ground with which artists traditionally prepare the painting surface for the application of oil paint. Cassatt evidently considered the work complete, however, for she signed it and sent it to her dealer, Ambroise Vollard. Its arrested state offers a glimpse into the artist's method, highlighting Cassatt's concern with the overall structure of her composition and basic color relationships. Even in its sketchiness, Jenny and her Sleepy Child captures the instinctive physical and emotional bond of mother and child.

Almost from the beginning of her career, Cassatt devoted her art to portraying modern domestic life. Her signature mother-and-child theme did not become a major feature of her work until 1888, however. Visits from her extended family, including young nieces and nephews, catalyzed this development, but Cassatt also worked from hired models who formed quite fictitious mother-and-child groupings. The identity of this pair is undetermined. The wife of Cassatt's brother Gardner was named Jennie, and she is shown holding her son Joseph Gardner Cassatt III in a drypoint (a kind of print) that launched the artist's long series of maternal images. But when Aunt Mary next saw young Gardner and his mother, in the autumn of 1891, the boy was already five years old and thus too mature to be the sprawling toddler presented here.

The Philadelphia-born Cassatt spent her entire career as an expatriate in France, but she painted more for her compatriots than for the European market. In an era in which most Americans believed that being a professional artist was socially incompatible with being a lady, maternal and domestic subjects were considered redeeming and safe for women artists. Training on them her characteristically unsentimental, disinterested vision, Cassatt approached them as simply another facet of bourgeois modern life as she found it about her. This approach reflects her earlier association with the so-called impressionists, a circle of French avant-garde painters who pictured modern subjects with special attention to vibrant brushwork and optical effects; Cassatt exhibited with them between 1879 and 1886 and continued thereafter to paint in sympathy with their interest in contemporary urban life.

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Provenance

The artist
Ambroise Vollard
Ambroise Vollard Estate
Lilienfeld Galleries, New York, New York
Durand-Ruel Gallery, New York, New York, 1948
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London, England
Mrs. Ellenore Wiegel, Upper Brookville, New York
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1988

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Exhibition History

Mary Cassatt, 1844–1926, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London, England, June–July 1953 (as Mere et Enfant). [exh. cat.]

The Art of Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), American Federation of Arts, New York, New York (organizer). Venues: Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, June 11–July 7, 1981; Nara Prefectural Museum of Art, Nara, Japan, July 18–August 23, 1981. [exh. cat.]

A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 21–June 21, 1987. [exh. cat.]

Impressions de toujours: les peintres américains en France, 1865–1915 (Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865–1915), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, June 1–November 1, 1992; April 1–October 31, 1993; April 1–October 30, 1994. [exh. cat.]

Regard sur Mary Cassatt (Mary Cassatt at a Glance), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 2–October 31, 1996.

American Artists and the Paris Experience, 1880–1910, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 22, 1997–March 8, 1998.

Giverny: une impression américaine (Giverny, An American Impression), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–November 1, 1998.

Paris and the American Woman, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 19–April 14, 2002.

American Classics from the Collection, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 14–June 15, 2003.

American Classics, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 13, 2003–February 8, 2004.

Visages de l'Amérique: de George Washington à Marilyn Monroe (Faces of America: From George Washington to Marilyn Monroe), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–October 31, 2004. [exh. cat.]

Mary Cassatt, graveur impressionniste (Mary Cassatt: Impressionist Printmaker), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–July 3, 2005. [exh. cat.]

Twarze Ameryki: Portrety z kolekcji Terra Foundation for American Art, 1770–1940 (Faces of America: Portraits from the collection of the Terra Foundation for American Art, 1770–1940), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France and Miedzynarodowe Centrum Kultury (International Cultural Center), Crakow, Poland (organizers). Venue: International Cultural Center, Crakow, Poland, February 15–May 7, 2006. [exh. cat.]

Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY and Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL (organizers). Venues: National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China, February 9-April 5, 2007; Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, April 30-June 30, 2007; Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China, April 30-June 30, 2007 (Shanghai presentations run concurrently); The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia, July 23–September 9, 2007; Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain, October 15, 2007–April 27, 2008 (exhibited through January 13, 2008). [exh. cat.]

Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany (organizer). Venues: Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany, February 22–June 1, 2008; Legion of Honor, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, California, June 21–September 21, 2008. [exh. cat.]

American Impressionism: a New Vision, 1880–1900 (L'Impressionnisme et les Américains/ Impresionismo Americano (French & Spanish titles), Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, Giverny, France and the Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois in collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, United Kingdom and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain (organizers). Venues: Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, Giverny, France, March 28–June 29, 2014; Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, July 19–October 19, 2014; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, November 4, 2014–February 1, 2015. [exh. cat.]

Mary Cassatt - Retrospective, Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan, NHK, Tokyo, Japan and NHK Productions, Tokyo, Japan (organizers); Venues: Yokohama Museum of Art, June 25 – September 11, 2016; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, September 27 – December 4, 2016 [exh. cat.]

"Mary Cassatt: An American Impressionist in Paris" ("Mary Cassatt: Une impressionniste américaine à Paris"); Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France (organizer). Venue: Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France, March 9–July 23, 2018 [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Illustrated London News 223 (June 11, 1953): 73. Text p. 73.

Mary Cassatt, 1844–1926. (exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd.). London, England: Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., 1953. Ill. p. 11 (as Mere et Enfant).

Breeskin, Adelyn Dohme. Mary Cassatt, Catalogue Raisonné: Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970. Ill. no. 188, p. 98 (black & white).

The Art of Mary Cassatt (1844–1926). (exh. cat., American Federation of the Arts). New York: American Federation of the Arts, 1981. No. 24, p. 100; ill. p. 42.

American Paintings IV 1986. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., 1986. Text p. 106; ill. frontispiece (color).

Atkinson, D. Scott et al. A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art. Edited by Terry A. Neff. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1987. Pl. T-59, p. 168 (color).

Gerdts, William H. et al. Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865–1915. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1992. Text p. 248; pl. 71, p. 249 (color).

Gerdts, William H. et al. Impressions de toujours: les peintres américains en France, 1865–1915. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1992. Text p. 248; pl. 71, p. 249 (color).

Costantino, Maria. Mary Cassatt. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995. Ill. p. 71 (color).

Reymond, Nathalie. Un regard américain sur Paris (An American Glance at Paris). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1997. Text p. 28; ill. p. 29 (color).

Lévy, Sophie, et al. Twarze Ameryki: Portrety z kolekcji Terra Foundation for American Art, 1770–1940/Faces of America: Portraits from the collection of the Terra Foundation for American Art, 1770–1940. (exh. cat. International Cultural Center). Cracow, Poland: International Cultural Center, 2006. Text p. 90; ill. p. 91 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., National Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Museum). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Chinese and English version; citing English version). Ill. p. 171 (color).

Art In America: 300 years of Innovation. Hong Kong: Wen Wei Publishing Co. Ltd, 2007. Text pp. 73-74 (in Chinese).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Russian version). Ill. p. 89 (color).

Pfeiffer, Ingrid and Max Hollein, eds. Women Impressionists. (Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany) Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2008. Text pp. 167, 310 (checklist); ill. pp. 166 (color detail), p. 175 (color).

Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA III: Covers and Essays from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association, 2011. Text pp. 36, 203; ill. opposite p. 36 (color).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. American Impressionism: A New Vision 1880-1900. (exh. cat., Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, National Galleries of Scotland, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza). Giverny, France: Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny, 2014. (English, French and Spanish versions). Text p. 27; ill. p. 59 (color).

Ikeda, Yuko; Pamela A. Ivinski; Maruko Kanai; Chinatsu Makiguchi; Nancy Mowll Mathews; Hideko Numata; Susan Pinsky; Marc Rosen; and Junko Uchiyama. Mary Cassatt Retrospective. (exh. cat. Yokohama Museum of Art; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto). Yokohama, Japan: Yokohama Museum of Art, 2016. Text p. 211, cat no. 83 (checklist). Ill. 115 (color).

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