Mother and Child
The piece I will analyzing is Mary Cassat’s Mother and Child.
For someone who is relatively unfamiliar with the Impressionist style of painting (or at least has a limited, Monet-driven exposure to the genre), the Realism of Cassat’s Mother and Child is what catches me the most. The duality of realist and impressionist in this painting is powerful, and it communicates to me the closeness of the mother/child relationship, and also the calm, comfortable state of a household drifting into naptime.
The focal point of this piece is obviously the interaction between mother and child (and perhaps within that, the child’s face/expression). For one, the figures are centered in the piece. Within the more general focus of both the mother and child, the mother is looking down at her child. This, along with the mother’s eyes being closed (or obscured by looking down) and almost loosely painted, suggests that the focal point is the child’s eyes and expression. Also, Cassat’s brushwork becomes more refined as we move into the realm above the mother’s arm and below her head. Drawing from the rubenistes view on esquisses (preliminary sketches), the less refined strokes on the outskirts imply that Cassat is more concerned with the faces and merely “filling in” the composition in haste to give the focal point context so she can maintain her focus on what is important (as a portrait sketcher may loosely sketch a background in order to hastily (and more meticulously) sketch the portrait). Even the degree to which Cassat’s loose brushstrokes appear scattered shifts, with the areas directly surrounding the faces with less refinement then the center, yet more refined than then very outskirts of the piece. This gives the piece a very strong feeling of radiation from the center.
The colors of this piece also add to the comfortable, warm feeling, with the color value being well balanced. At the center is our brightest white. In the background, the colors move in a flowing diagonal manner from the top-left to the bottom-right. Starting with the light blue vase in the top-left, we can follow the light blues to the wall/cupboard on the right just above the woman’s dress. The pattern of her dress follow this same flow, as do the darker colors of the wall/cupboard on the left moving down to the center-bottom of the woman’s dress. Perhaps this is an inference to the sinking, exhausted feeling the child appears to have in her eyes (and conveys with her weighted posture, leaning into her mother for support).