Cassatt painting coming home to The Westmoreland Museum of American Art
After a six-month stint on exhibit in Japan, a genuine Mary Cassatt painting can once again be seen in Greensburg. The Westmoreland Museum of American Art will be reinstalling “Mother and Two Children” on Jan. 8.
The public is welcome to witness this reinstallation from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m in the Salatka 20th Century Gallery, as part the museum’s Free Admission Sunday, but reservations for the event are required.
Painted by Cassatt (1844-1926), a Pittsburgh native, around 1905, “Mother and Two Children” is arguably one of the Westmoreland Museum’s most popular works for many reasons, says Doug Evans, collections manager. “The work is by an internationally recognized artist, in her signature late style, offering the universally appreciated theme of maternal love and protection.”
The painting will be prominently placed in the museum, greeting visitors as they first enter the 20th Century Gallery.
In 2016, the painting was included in “Mary Cassatt Retrospective,” an exhibit organized by Hideko Numata, chief curator at the Yokohama Museum of Art, where it was first on display June 25 to Sept. 11, 2016, then traveled to the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto where the exhibition continued through Dec. 4
Comprised of more than 100 works, the exhibit spanned Cassatt’s career while contextualizing her work with that of her contemporaries, including Impressionist painters Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), as well as her Japanese influences, most notably Ukiyo-e prints.
“Hideko was particularly interested in our Cassatt because it was an interesting commission for the artist and because of its unusual tondo (circular) format,” Evans says. “The piece was originally produced as part of a mural commission for a new women’s lounge at the State Capitol in Harrisburg (now the lieutenant governor’s suite).”
A similar painting from 1908 hangs in the White House, in Washington. And like that one, it features a young mother with her two children, delicately painted in light pastel colors.
Evans says that, although Cassatt often used her family as models, including her parents, sister, brother, sister-in-law and their children, “the sitters in ‘Mother and Two Children’ have not been identified.”
“In Cassatt’s late work, the theme of mother and child was a common subject for her and one viewers have always appreciated,” Evans says.
In 1978, Paul Chew, former director of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, was contacted by FAR Gallery of New York about the availability of the painting. Chew traveled to Salvador, Brazil, in late 1978 to meet with the seller, purchase and transport the painting to Western Pennsylvania, using generous funds from an anonymous donor to purchase the work.
“I would say the Cassatt is important to our collection for many reasons, primarily, it is a beautiful painting with a universal theme of maternal love and protection,” Evans says.
Born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Cassatt was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who moved the family to Lancaster and then to Philadelphia, where he set up an investment firm.
With the support of her wealthy parents, she first attended Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1856 to 1860 and then, in 1865, set off for Paris where she studied with French painter and sculptor Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904).
After a brief return to the United States from 1870-71, during which she was frustrated by a lack of artistic resources and opportunities, she set out again for Paris where she eventually met Edgar Degas in 1877.
Cassatt stated that her first encounter with Degas’ art “changed my life.” While Degas, upon seeing Cassatt’s art for the first time, reputedly remarked, “There is someone who feels as I do.”
Completely platonic, theirs was a true artistic friendship built on this shared sensibility.
With Degas’ encouragement, Cassatt searched for a new form of expression and participated in the Impressionist exhibitions where she established her own individual style of painting, focusing on everyday family scenes as her subject matter.
Cassatt’s works became highly recognized in both France and the United States, and in 1904 she received La Légion d’honneur Chevalier from the French government.
“Cassatt is an internationally recognized artist, a highlight in any collection she is found,” Evans says. “The fact that Cassatt is an American, from Pennsylvania, born in Pittsburgh, lived in Philadelphia, only increases our interest in her; the fact she was the only American to be invited to paint with the Independants (Impressionists) places her among the highest echelon of artists.”
Although the museum holds two prints by Cassatt in its collection — a lithograph on paper from 1904 entitled “Sarah Wearing Bonnet and Coat” and an etching on paper entitled “Jeanette and Her Mother Seated on a Sofa” from 1901 — Evans says, “I believe it would be difficult to acquire another Cassatt at this point in time. The market for American art is quite high. But we would certainly welcome another and offer it a good home.”
Details: 724-837-1500 or thewestmoreland.org
Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic.