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Mary Cassatt Show at Shelburne Museum

July 29, 2008

Touring the show Sunday, I was struck by the real differences in Cassatt’s style between the paintings and the drawings. Many of the paintings contain passages in which the artist’s freedom takes flight: wildly counter-contour brushstrokes, choppy-textured, casual rendering and some areas left completely unfinished, as was in vogue.

Summertime — circa 1894

This painting was not in the show, but it is actually a better painting than any that were, so I’m using it for an example of her painting style. This particular work is better organized energy in motion; the rythmic patterns created by brush strokes work well, and relate the shapes to their space; enlarge the piece two times and you will see. However, most of the paintings that contain her flights of freedom with the brush are not the happier for them, for those passages often seem at odds with the rest of the painting.

The drawings were much more tame, timid,  … too precious.

quietude — 1891

This is pretty representative of the drawings in the show. Call me crazy, but this type of drawing is SO BORING to me!

Much is made of Cassatt’s relationship with Degas, as if her body of work on its own isn’t strong enough to carry the show. This may be true, but sad… . A friend who saw the show last week mentioned the Degas connection right off, and then went on to talk a little bit about Degas’s craziness. So, if a main narrative to emerge out of a discussion about a show of works by a female artist is about a male artist contemporary, what does this tell us? aighghgh! back to the drawing board!

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