The Fitting

the-fittingThis Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) piece was done in drypoint and aquatint. The inscription reads: Edition de 25 épreuves Imprimée par l’artiste et M. Leroy / Mary Cassatt.

Drypoint and aquatint are both intaglio printmaking techniques and a variant of etching. Drypoint uses a sharp pointed tool to “draw” a design onto a copper plate. A quick explanation of aquatint is that a acid is used to etch into metal, usually copper, to create areas that will hold ink. By combining the two techniques, an artist is able to create various shadings from full ink to subtle shadings.

History tends to credit Edgar Degas with introducing Cassatt to these mediums. However, if you study the timing of when they met and her body of work, it isn’t a stretch to consider that she had already been an accomplished etcher before she met Degas.

The Fitting is one of ten prints from 1891. The theme of the collection was everyday work. In this piece we have an anonymous seamstress working on the hem of a dress. Her patron’s face is shown full-on and in reflection in a full-length mirror. The contrast between the two woman was perhaps to show the difference in their stations – the colorful, well-dressed patron and the drab-colored dress of an anonymous woman from the working classes. Perhaps it is ironic that none of the discussions about this piece identified the model for the patron – making her somewhat anonymous as well.

This is clearly a work where we can see a Japanese influence. the 1890 exhibition at Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts would greatly influence a number of the French Impressionist painters. Ukiyo-e prints often portrayed women’s lives and were displayed in a series. In The Fitting, we see how those earlier works influenced Cassatt in both her styling and somewhat monochrome color choices. Cassatt has clearly moved away from the bold colors and indistinct lines of Impressionism to create her own unique style that often blends elements of Realism, Impressionism, Japonism and her own unique way of depicting women as they are.

Be sure to check out our Biography of Mary Cassatt to learn more about this American artist and see other examples of her work.