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CMA hosts Mary Cassatt exhibit

11/1/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

“After the Bath” is on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mary Cassatt and the Feminine Ideal in 19th-Century Paris exhibit.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — In the 1916 building at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), right off the spectacular new atrium that recently opened as part of the renovation and expansion of the museum over the past few years, CMA has set aside two smaller galleries across the hallway from each other for a refined and revealing exhibit, Mary Cassatt and the Feminine Ideal in 19th-Century Paris, which will be on view through Jan. 21.

Cassatt is a famous American painter and printmaker who spent much of her adult life in Paris. This exhibition, however, focuses on her portrayal of the roles of women and the expectancy that was part of life in another century. It also gives CMA an opportunity to bring out and display its strong holdings of works on paper by Cassatt, a medium most don’t associate with her.

The exhibit explores Cassatt’s images of women alongside those of her contemporaries — Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — and carefully organizes the results thematically.

Cassatt and others spent considerable time envisioning the ongoing theme of “mother and child,” all of which are in one gallery, giving great attention to the nurturing role of women in this society.

In another room, attention is given to what artists and critics considered “public women” — women at work, peasant women, those in theater and dance (such as Degas’ ballet dancers and images of actress Sarah Bernhardt and dancer Loie Fuller, both of whom spent time in Paris) and the ladies in the brothels of Paris (with great attention given to them by artist Toulouse-Lautrec).

The collection includes more than a dozen prints spanning the range of Cassatt’s activity as a printmaker from her first efforts in 1879, when she was working closely with Degas, to her famous suite of 10 color prints of 1890-91 that depict the daily life of the modern, bourgeois woman of 19th-century Paris.

In addition to Cassatt’s masterpiece in pastel, “After the Bath,” a number of her drawings are also on view, including studies for several prints in the exhibition. That’s always a fascinating aspect to take in — to see the conceptual changes that happen as the artist focuses on the subject and lets the change of medium dictate minor variations.

CMA has brought out examples from its collection of pastels — a rare opportunity to enjoy spectacularly colorful, light-sensitive works on paper. There are samples of the same subject done a few different times with optional color choices. The viewer can make some critical decisions about which choices they think worked better for the artist.

Admission to this exhibit is free. For more information, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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