The Caress Mary Cassatt Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Caress is a 1902 portrait painting by American Impressionist, Mary Cassatt. She became an important part of the movement in France and regularly exhibited alongside its more established members. The genre is entirely typical of her oeuvre, with this being amongst the best example of that.

Here we find three figures, with a mother and her two children struggling together to sit on a single chair. The older child is attempting to hold the younger one in position for the portrait, perhaps under orders from her mother. The lady sat down can be found in other portraits by this artist, and so was clearly a favoured model. She looks fairly distant, perhaps drained by the energy of her two young children who do not seem willing to sit still for the artist for long. The youngest is undressed, and appears to be arching their back in an attempt to escape, though the mother's grasp looks gentle and relaxed. They are perched on a bright green chair, almost matching the outfit worn by this beautiful young mother. Her hair is tidy and pragmatically styled for the tasks that needed to be carried out as the chief carer for her children. The bottom half of her outfit is purple, with some yellow patterns and the background behind them is devoid of any real interest, just helping us to understand the overall setting of this portrait.

Some of the more memorable elements to this piece are the brightness found on the mother's jacket, which appears so real that we could almost reach out and touch it. The struggle between the two children is also unusual, as Cassatt normally featured mothers with just a single child and often they would also be a little younger. Perhaps these figures were all known to the artist as she would sometimes be commissioned to work with friends and family who were already well aware of her impressive artistic talents. It was later on that she would start to pay out of her own pocked for specialise models or local children in whatever region she was living at the time.

This painting can now be found within the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, USA. This is an institution with a respected permanent collection that covers a good variety of different art movements, though with a strong focus on American art overall. There are also some exciting artworks from native American culture which provide a more complete study of this region's past. The White Ballet by Everett Shinn indicates a clear influence from Edgar Degas on US art and we also know that he became good friends with Cassatt, with the two exchanging ideas regularly in making the most of the pastel medium, for example. The Victorian Chair by Childe Hassam is another fine artwork to be found here and it fits relatively closely with The Caress and many other works from Cassatt who was devoted to capturing the female form in her work, as well as young children as well.