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Cassatt, Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge

Cassatt, Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge


(piano music playing) Steven: When historians talk
about late 19th-century Paris, they often talk about
a culture of display, and this is a painting
that is all about that. Beth: We’re looking at
Mary Cassatt’s painting, Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge, and this is, perhaps,
Mary Cassatt’s sister pictured in the Paris opera house. She’s sitting in a private booth, and we can see behind her a mirror, which reflects all the other
private booths in the opera house. Steven: So the Paris opera house, situated at the intersection
of the Grand Boulevards, is a building which is
a kind of jewel itself, but that also puts its
occupants on display. In other words, the
stage of the opera house is not simply where
the ballet takes place, but the stage is also the audience. Beth: The architecture
of the Paris opera house enabled seeing and being seen, and afforded numerous opportunities in small, little balconies and spaces where one could glimpse the
fashionable elite of Paris, and we certainly feel
that we’re looking at one of the members of that
elite in this painting by Mary Cassatt. Steven: What you said is exactly right. Look at the composition. Mary Cassatt must have been
turned away from the stage looking into the box towards her sister, and Lydia is, in turn, looking
back out towards the audience, and so we’re seeing Lydia
the way that the audience would have seen her, had
they glanced into this box. She is this object of display
within this jewel box. Beth: But Cassatt doesn’t paint
herself reflected in the mirror, where she must have been
as she looked at Lydia and painted her. Steven: So this is a painting
that really does show the opulence of imperial France. The moment that’s being represented
is clearly intermission. The chandelier has been lowered
into the space of the audience. The lights are up, and so the
audience’s gaze has shifted from the stage to themselves. Beth: So Cassatt’s family,
although it was very wealthy, actually her father refused
to support her desire to be an artist, and although he paid for
her basic living expenses, refused to support her art
supplies and her studio where she painted. Steven: This, despite real support from the leading artists of the day. She was a close friend of Degas, who had enormous respect for her ability, and she was an extraordinary painter, in every way a peer of the great
impressionist painters in Paris. Beth: This painting displays
a virtuoso technique. Mary Cassatt gained her
knowledge of painting from a variety of sources,
but it was difficult because she was a woman. Steven: Her first formal classes were at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, but women were not allowed
to study from the nude, even from within the
context of art school. Beth: And like many
artists of her generation, they moved to Paris where there
was a little bit more freedom for women who were aspiring artists. Although she couldn’t enter
the École des Beaux-Arts because she was a woman, she did enter the private studio of several accomplished
artists and studied with them. Steven: But the world was still
a restrictive one for her, even in Paris, and she
was not, for instance, able to spend time with her
friends like Degas at the cafes. We see that, actually,
reflected in her subject matter, which tends to be domestic, or perhaps a night out at the opera. Beth: It’s difficult, I think,
to remember those restrictions for women when we look at this painting because there’s an
extraordinary sense of freedom about the woman who’s depicted here. She’s leaning back on her right elbow. There’s a strong diagonal
that has a sense of informality and movement,
real self-confidence Steven: The woman with a pearl necklace, perhaps Lydia seems so much
her own agent in the world, and it really does remind us
of the tensions that existed at the end of the 19th century, as women were really entering
into the public space. You know that the tension
between public and private is played out, not only in
terms of the subject matter, not only the fact that they’re
in a kind of semi-private space within this booth in the public
space of the opera house, but also in the contrast
between light and shadow that plays across Lydia’s body. Look at the way the light picks
up only the side of her face. The front of her face is in shadow. Not only is it rather
brave on Cassatt’s part, but it also speaks to the
representation of bourgeois culture, this notion of privacy and its importance, even as one views the stage with others. Beth: Cassatt has so much in common with her impressionist colleagues
and is really picking up on some of the most advanced problems that they were confronting in their art, an interest in artificial
light, for example. The informality of loose
brushwork of an attempt to capture a moment in time. These are all concerns that were important to her impressionist colleagues. Steven: One of the areas
that I found most interesting is the place where her shoulders meet. The representation of her shoulders and the representation of the
reflection of her shoulders, and all of that comes together just at the top of the upholstered
chair that she sits on, and if you work out from that point, the arc of the balcony that
we see reflected in the mirror becomes a reference to her vision, as she looks out at the audience, even as it looks back to her. (piano music playing)

2 thoughts on “Cassatt, Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge”

  1. Majestueux information culturelle sur l' impressionnisme americanos et Cassatt, Magnific information cultural on the american impressionism and Mary Cassatt

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