Listening to Art

06.04: Mary Cassatt, Children in a Garden (The Nurse)


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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume six, number four: Children in a Garden (The Nurse) by Mary Cassatt.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Mary Cassatt was an American painter who was born in 1844 and died in 1926 in France, where she had lived for about fifty years.

Early in 1877 her submissions to the annual Paris Salon were rejected, and for the first time in seven years she had nothing hanging there. Soon after, Edgar Degas invited her to join the Impressionists.

Children in a Garden (The Nurse) was painted in 1878, but was not one of the eleven paintings she showed in the next Impressionist exhibition in 1879 (though it would be shown in 1886). Nancy Mowll Mathews describes that first show in her book Mary Cassatt: A Life (p. 135):

All eleven of the paintings, pastels and gouaches she chose for her first Impressionist exhibition were hung in the third room of the gallery in a mini-one-woman showing. The prominence that this gave her within the group was not lost on visitors to the gallery, and critics rarely failed to take note of the arrival of an important new member. Seeing such a number of works hung together must have made an impact on Cassatt herself, who had never before had more than two hanging in a single exhibition….

What Cassatt saw as she walked around “her” gallery of the Impressionist exhibition was very different from what she thought she would be doing when she settled in Paris in 1874. Instead of “arriving” by winning a Salon medal for a Rubenesque peasant painting, she had become a painter of radical figure studies that were being dissected by a buzz of critics in the French and English press. Gone were the costumed Italians, Spaniards, and coy Parisian demoiselles; in their place were angled and cropped compositions of women in theaters and drawing rooms at the mercy of light and shadow that alternately blinded or obscured their exact outlines. In addition to these most “modern” pictures, the group was rounded out by two more straightforward portraits of men (one done several years before in her “old” style), two portraits of children, and a study of women in the garden, as if to show the artist’s range of subjects. It was a bold but balanced showing.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 81 cm wide by 65.4 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Children in a Garden (The Nurse) by Mary Cassatt, recorded while on tour at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, on 15 February 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Children in a Garden (The Nurse) by Mary Cassatt. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Mathews, Nancy Mowll. Mary Cassatt: A Life. New York: Villard, 1994.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “Children in a Garden (The Nurse).” The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. https://www.mfah.org/art/detail/53883.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Mary Cassatt,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Cassat.