Sunday, May 18, 2014


Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through October 5, 2014

In contrast to the Wyeth show described below, where the human form was conspicuous by its absence, Cassatt and Degas show nothing but people: in their homes, visiting friends, at the theater.  Wyeth can be described as both a realist and an abstract painter; Cassatt and Degas are unapologetic realists.

This show was much smaller than I had anticipated, which is not a bad thing.  Often, when I'm making my way through one of those gargantuan exhibits in the East Building, I'm tired of whatever I'm seeing by the time I'm finished, no matter how enthusiastic I was when I started.  No worries on that score here; it's four rooms, and although they're full of great art, you'll run out of paintings before you run out of energy.

Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas were friends and professional colleagues in Paris in the late 1800s, and this show focuses on that time period and the influence each had on the other.  If you're expecting lots of mother and child paintings from Cassatt, prepare to be surprised.  There are only three in the show.  Featured is the familiar painting above, of a little girl and her dog in a room full of blue upholstery, and several paintings of women at the theater.  As for Degas, his theater paintings are represented as well; his are of the women on the stage.

Degas' influence on Cassatt is exemplified by his contributions in the painting above.  He suggested the corner in the back of the painting, which alters the perspective to make it more interesting.  The influence was not all one-way however.  Degas used Mary Cassatt as a model more than once - his paintings and drawings of her at the Louvre take up an entire room.

Although their work took different directions later in their careers, they remained friends until Degas' death.  Degas bought many of Cassatt's paintings and Cassatt encouraged others to purchase Degas' works, as well as buying a few paintings for herself.

Note that the show is quite crowded, especially around the works on the audio tour they sell outside the entrance.  I'm guessing that this is a problem that will resolve itself in a few weeks, when everyone who's interested will have seen the show.  For that reason, you may want to delay your trip in order to have a bit more elbow room.

Verdict: If you like French Impressionism, this is a lovely show.  Its tight focus on one aspect of Degas and Cassatt makes it quite manageable as a lunchtime excursion.

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