Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Pissarro on Mary Cassatt’s prints

I had the chance to see some prints by Mary Cassatt in 2007, at the Impressionnism from France and America Exhibition.
These prints are delicate and very personnal in their subject and execution. Mary Cassatt was clearly impired by Japanese prints, but re-interpreted with day to day western life themes.

"Under the horse chestnut tree", 1 print: drypoint and aquatint, color by Mary Cassatt [Source: Wikimedia

Camille Pissarro, who exhibited with Mary Cassatt and did some engravings himself, was interested in the technique the American artist used. In a letter dated April 3, 1891, he wrote to his son Lucien:
“It is absolutely necessary, while what I saw yesterday at Miss Cassatt's is still fresh in mind, to tell you about the colored engravings she is to show at Durand-Ruel's at the same time as I. (…)
You remember the effects you strove for at Eragny? Well, Miss Cassatt has realized just such effects, and admirably: the tone even, subtle, delicate, without stains on seams: adorable blues, fresh rose, etc. Then what must we have to succeed? . . . money, yes, just a little money. We had to have copper-plates, a boite a grain, this was a bit of a nuisance but it is absolutely necessary to have uniform and imperceptible grains and a good printer. But the result is admirable, as beautiful as Japanese work, and it's done with printer's ink!”

The Lamp – print by Mary Cassatt [Source: Wikimedia]

In another letter to Lucien dated April 25, 1891, he gives more details on Cassatt’s technique:
“Before leaving Paris I went to see Miss Cassatt. I watched her make color prints of her aquatints. Her method is the same as ours except that she does not use pure colors, she mixes her tones and thus is able to get along with only two plates. The drawback is that she cannot obtain pure and luminous tones, however her tones are attractive enough. We will have to make a more definitive trial of our own method to determine which is to be preferred.”

The Bath (1890-1891) by Mary Cassatt - drypoint and aquatint on laid paper - plate: 32.1 x 24.8 cm (12 5/8 x 9 3/4 in.) - sheet: 43.7 x 30.5 cm (17 3/16 x 12 in.) [Source: NGA]

Maternal Caress (1890-1891) by Mary Cassatt - Color drypoint and aquatint on cream laid paper; plate: 36.8 x 26.8 cm (14 1/2 x 10 9/16 in.); sheet: 43.5 x 30.3 cm (17 1/8 x 11 15/16 in.) [Source: NGA]

Related resources
 Book with Mary Cassatt’s prints

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