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Edgar Degas



A Close Friendship
Edgar Degas<br>French, 1834-1917<br><I>Mary Cassatt at the Louvre</I>, 1879-80<br>Etching, drypoint<br>The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund
zoom Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917
Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, 1879-80
Etching, drypoint
The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund

 

Degas encountered the work of the American artist Mary Cassatt several years before he met her. He was so impressed that in 1877 he invited Cassatt, who was living in Paris, to exhibit with the Impressionist artists in their next exhibition. The two artists became lifelong friends.

Degas, who was older than Cassatt, was considered her mentor. But each influenced the other’s artwork. Because of Degas, Cassatt began using pastels and experimented with etching. And Cassatt’s friendship inspired Degas to frequently depict the everyday life of ordinary women.

The friends also used each other as subjects for their art. In 1879 Degas made a series of pastels, drawings, and etchings of Cassatt at the Louvre, the national museum of France. Here she is shown from behind as she confidently strolls the galleries, umbrella in hand. Even though her face can’t be seen, her posture, sleek figure, and refined clothing all give her an air of elegance. From this portrayal, it’s easy to see that Degas admired his friend.

This etching also reveals Degas’s interest in Japanese prints, which Cassatt shared. It is narrow and vertical, like the Japanese format known as a pillar print. Also like Japanese prints, Degas’s picture is full of patterns—on the gallery’s walls and floor and the women’s clothing.


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1. The woman seated on the bench is Cassatt’s sister Lydia.
2. Most of Cassatt’s subjects were women. Her use of different patterns was influenced by Japanese prints.
Mary Cassatt, The Barefooted Child, about 1896-97, color aquatint and drypoint, gift of Kenneth and Lillian Smith
3. Japanese prints that are long and narrow are known as pillar prints. How else is this print like Degas?s etching?
Shunchō Katsukawa, Shō zaemon Chichibuya, Courtesan Hanaō gi Cooling Herself, about 1790, color woodblock print, bequest of Richard P. Gale

 

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April 2009