Degas and Cassatt: The Untold Story of Their Artistic Friendship

by articulatenyc


In Mary Cassatt’s 1878 painting Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, a fidgeting young child slouches into the pillowy embrace of a turquoise chair. The girl’s scruffy black and brown dog sleeps on the seat next to her, adding to the tranquility of this domestic scene.

The canvas is a quintessential Cassatt. However, recent cleaning of the work and infrared images taken by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., reveal that brushstrokes from someone else’s hand are also present—Cassatt’s friend and colleague Edgar Degas. The French artist subtly changed the shape of the room. He had the floor intersect with the back wall at an angle, rather than perpendicularly, creating negative spaces that are strange and unexpected.

Upon discovering these details of Degas’s intervention on Cassatt’s canvas, a team of experts at the National Gallery decided to explore further. They organized the exhibition “Degas/Cassatt” to investigate the previously unknown depth of the pair’s artistic relationship. The show, which opens May 11, will feature a selection of 70 paintings, drawings, and works of mixed media by both artists to highlight their artistic dialogue.

Degas first met Cassatt (who was born in Pittsburgh but spent much of her life in Paris) on an 1877 visit to her Montmartre studio. “He recognized right off the bat that they had a shared sensibility,” says the show’s curator, Kim Jones, and he invited her to participate in the Impressionist exhibition he was organizing with his fellow “independent” painters. Their introduction marked the beginning of a friendship that lasted nearly 40 years. A lack of existing correspondence between the two makes it difficult to discern the specific details of their interactions, but their artworks—particularly those created between the late-1870s and the mid-1880s, the period of the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris—leave behind compelling clues about their friendship . . .

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