After a very successful foray into Impressionism, Mary Cassatt, like most other adept artists, continued to learn and experiment with her craft, and – thanks, as for so many parts of her life, to Edgar Degas – she came into contact with the highly stylised and attractive Japanese school of art in which bold long flowing lines, carefully applied delicate touches of colour and plenty of negative space form exquisite works of art.
In the image two women are picking fruit, one on a ladder, passing the fruit down to the other, who carries a baby in one arm. The baby is 'helping', his little arm upstretched to take the fruit, from where it will be placed into a basket, while the next fruit is plucked. A simple scenario and delicately depicted, with the mother's dress picked out in soft pink, delineated with sharply incised curving black lines. The baby's naked body is similar: softly pink and pudgy, limbs and buttocks outlined with skilful lines that give them both shape and weight. In sharp contrast to the almost amorphous mass of mother and child, the other woman, high on the ladder, wears a brightly patterned dress, pulled in at the waist and picked out in lively blue with darker blue patterning.
A doorway seems to give out onto a distant world, and here, as always, can be found a case for Cassatt's commentary on women, women's lives and their endless dedication to their babies. At this point, Cassatt had been working on her Japanese style printing for almost three years, and this design was originally deemed good enough to form part of a mural she was commissioned to design for the Woman's Building at the World Columbian Exposition – a commission that was sadly cancelled, leaving her to either abandon her work, or take a sidewise step to transform the image into a Japanese style print.
The work is not currently on display, although it has formed part of two exhibitions dealing with the collected works of Mary Cassatt, and remains in the vaults of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Perhaps one day, it will once again see the light of day, allowing new scholars the chance to ponder Cassatt's many hidden, often feminist and frequently ironic, statements on life!