Mary Cassatt: Family Scene, 1854



Figure 1.--This engraving was made during Mary's first trip abroad in 1854. Interestingly, she and her younger brother Gardner seem more interested in the artist than the chess game between brother Robbie and her father. Gardner was abot 5 years old and Robbie abour 12. Note Gardner's Scottish outfit. Robbie died only a year after this engraving was made. The engraving is based on a pencil study by Peter Baumgaertner.

Location

Robert Cassatt loved Europe, but the family was in Europe because of Alexander. He was an excellent student with a technical bent. At the time much better technical schools were available in Europe than America. Thus Mr. Cassatt brought the whole family to Europe and enrolled Robert in a boarding school in Heidelberg, which is why Alexander is not in the drawing. This drawing was also commissined in Heidelberg.

The Artist

The engraving is based on a pencil study by Peter Baumgaertner. I know nothing about Baumgaertner as an artist, but this is a fascinating study of family life in the 1850s.

Subjects

The drawing shows Gardner (about 5), Robbie (about 12), Mary (about 10) and their father. Robbie is playing chess with his father, but his brother and sister do not appear to be much interested.

Gardner

Gardner was the baby of the family. He appaers fascinated by the artist and not at all interested in the chess game. He is5 years old and seems a lively little chap. He wears what looks to be a plaid dress with a small lace collar, or perhaps a tunic suit of some kind. Cassatt's biographer suggests he "endured" the outfit. [Hale, p. 19.] HBC sees no indication from the drawing that he is particularly upset about his outfit. This is a cnclusion that Hale seems to draw out of the apparent assumption that all boys should object to such outfits. Gardner wears his Glengarry cap with a back streamer. It is not clear whose idea this was, perhaps his mother's idea. One interesting questin is if this a popular American fashion at the time. We wonder if this outfit was brought from America or pirchased in Euorope and if so where. His hair is a little long, but both men and boys in the 1850s might wear ther hair over their ears.

Robbie

We can not see much of Robbie's outfit here. He has what looks like a white collar, but not an especially large one. Hs hair is worn over his ears. Robbie tragically died a year after this drawing was made.

Mary

Mary like Gardner seems very interested in the artist. Her hair is drawn back and she has a center part. Notice the hairbows. She seems much less engaged thatn the other subjects in the drawing.

Sources

Hale, Nancy. Mary Cassatt: A Biography of the Great American Painter (Double Day: Garden City, N.Y., 1975), 333p.







Christopher Wagner





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Created: July 9, 2002
Last updated: July 9, 2002