Here we find Mary Cassatt in a rare self portrait - we know of only one other within her extensive career. She leans to the right, with her arm on a piece of furniture that is a mustard brown colour with slim red stripes. She wears a full length white dress which covers her entirely, other than her face. Her hat features a dark red bow that is tied under her chin in order to keep it in place. There is also a multitude of colours to be found on her hat's surface, which are most likely fake flowers for decoration. There is then a pastel tone across the background which some have suggested indicates an influence from her friend Edgar Degas who often did similar within some of his portraits. There is relatively little use of shadows within this composition, just a few touches around Cassatt's body in order to bring a greater depth to the painting.
There are a good number of artworks by Mary Cassatt which are now to be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and most of these are believed to have been generously donated to the institution by several collectors of Impressionist who wanted as many people to see these items as possible. Louisine Elder (later Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer) was one such collector who met and became friends with Cassatt before later acquiring this particular piece. To be able to own one of only two self portraits by Mary Cassatt is a real twist of fortune but her eye was clearly a good one as she attempted to purchase more of this artist’s work. Like most young artists, the early days are tricky as one attempts to build a reputation and also to find patrons who are willing to help finance their career.
Mary Cassatt would have been approaching her mid-thirties by the time of this painting but, in truth, was still some way away from reaching her peak as an artist. In the decade that followed shortly after this painting was completed she would throw herself into pastel drawing much more than previously had been the case. She also continued to perfect her knowledge of portraiture more generally and would start to build up a list of favourite models who she would pay for their services, when previously she had used the children of friends and family wherever possible. Her list of patrons would also start to grow over time as she benefitted from her friendships with several members of the Impressionist movement who particularly admired her technical competence.