Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"I can live alone and I love to work." Mary Cassatt

In the 1878 oil entitled Portrait of a Lady, Cassatt depicts her mother, in casual morning dress, reading Le Figaro. So what might have been in the paper that day? No Soduko, I guess. Judith Barter speculates in Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman.

The Cassatt family would have been well read and informed about current events. In Le Figaro, Mrs. Cassatt might have been learning about preparations underway for the International Congress of Women's Rights. This 1878 gathering was to focus on a range
of issues under discussion at the time, including the status of the woman in society, her role in the family, as well as opportunities for education. Following the Congress, education was made free and compulsory for both sexes.

It is clear from other information about Mary Cassatt that she was an independent thinker who was comfortable speaking her mind. A few years after painting this, she was one of a handful of artists and writers (including Monet and Zola) who championed the cause of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly accused of treason, but finally exonerated years later. (Incidentally, Degas took the opposite position during the whole affair.)

A painting of a woman reading the paper seems pretty quaint at the remove of 130 years. I still like it. I have not embarked upon a Kindle series, but maybe somehow else has. Here's one of my daughter reading The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall before the Twilight series took over her life. It's another painting done over the top of one that didn't work out; I seem to have a lot of these.

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