Sara Holding a Cat 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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Sara Holding a Cat dates from circa 1907-08 and was purchased in 2012 at auction for over $2.5m. It is one of many portraits of young girls produced by Mary Cassatt.

The girl wears a pretty pink dress with white detail and also has a matching bow in her hair. She has a blonde tone to her hair which Cassatt regularly went for when selecting her models. The girl holds a small ginger cat in her right hand, which no doubt would have been looking to escape at the time that the artist put this charming composition together.

One imagines that she would have to have worked quickly to put together a sketching of the outlines, before the girl and the cat would have lost concentration and wandered off. Cassatt was entirely used to working with young children, but the addition of an animal would have made this piece even harder to put together.

You will notice how much of the detail is rough, with long brushstrokes that have not been softened by the painter - the back of the cat, for example, has very clear lines rather than a fusion of colour into something more precise.

It is important to remember that by the time of this painting, Cassatt was approaching the end of her career. Sadly, her eyesight was deteriorating in precision and eventually she would not feel able to continue painting anymore. What we find here, then, is the artist at her peak of painting portraits, just before this ability started to drop away. She had been capturing young children within her work for many decades and had entirely mastered this genre, focusing on it more within her career than anyone else had done.

Morisot was another female Impressionists who also took on this genre at times, but her career was a little more varied as she liked to also take on other challenges as well. In today's society there are many who love this style of art, finding it charming and innocent, and a direct contrast to the world we now live in.

To give examples of how her approach to this genre changed over time, it is worth checking out other examples of Cassatt's portraits, such as The Child's Bath, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair and also Children Playing on the Beach.

She would tweak everything, essentially, from the colour schemes, to the medium, to the number of figures featured and also the setting. Most were based indoors but sometimes she would set her models up outside, perhaps in their own garden.

That would then alter the lighting considerably, and therefore the palette. She initially made use of the children of family and friends before they grew up and became too old for her portraits, leaving her to acquire local residents from wherever she was working at the time. She liked to work with families from lower parts of society in order to help them out financially but in some cases it was actually them paying her for a specific commission.