Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mary Cassatt: Studies in Mothers and Children 1

Mother Berthe Holding Her Baby, 1900

Mary Cassatt is rightly associated with her many paintings of mothers and children together and also her portraits of children. As I looked closely at her paintings, as I said, I was astounded at her psychological insight into the qualities of the relationship between mother and child at the particular moment she portrays. In the painting above, I feel that Ms. Cassatt has captured the mutual physical comfort that mother and child find in each other. When I first held my daughter as an infant, I felt that her body simply molded itself in perfect comfort to mine and it seemed to me she felt the same way. In the painting, the eyes of the mother and the baby's ease seem to say: We are happy to belong to each other.

In 1890, Ms. Cassatt produced several paintings centered on the child's caress of the mother that are also fascinating in probing the nuanced world between mother and child where so much communication is physical rather than linguistic.

Baby's First Caress, 1890

In this painting, Baby's First Caress, Cassett portrays that moment when the child contemplates the mother with the first-time apprehension of a different being. The mother is beloved and is the infant's whole world--but it is different, and the caress also carries with it a studying and contemplation of the beloved, all-giving face. While the baby's caress is a loving gesture, it is also a step toward independence.

In this next painting, the studying of the mother's face dominates in the child's gesture, as if the child were blind and seeking to know the object through touch. Haven't all mothers experienced their child's probing fingers like this? Yes, I see you have lips, a mouth, a nose, eyes, eyebrows--is this like me?

Child's Caress, also 1890

Here is a painting that might be called the cranky caress. The child seems to be a bit out of sorts, and the caress represents both a protest against enclosure and tiredness and also a probing for security and affirmation of the mother's presence. Soon this child may be asleep in its mother's arms or permit itself to be dropped down gently into bed.

Mother and Child, 1890

Six years later, Ms. Cassatt painted this Maternal Caress--the caress of a toddler who is in serious study of her mother.

Also see: Mary Cassatt: More Than an Impressionist

1 comment:

Christina said...

What a lovely post, and what a pleasant experience to see Cassatt's four similar mother-child portraits together. They reminded me of one of the gifts of motherhood I miss the most now that my children are all grown and moved away: the daily hugs, kisses, cuddles, tickles, and snuggles.