I’ve been studying art history independently since the seventh grade. I began with Vincent van Gogh and Michelangelo. But it didn’t take long for me to discover the Impressionists. I try to explore the works of many artists, but as a group, the Impressionists remain my favorite. There are still a few artists from that group who I don’t know very much about yet. My first experience with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., happened on a ninth grade field trip. I’ve been back many times since, and have also enjoyed many other local museums. Several years ago, the museum offered a major exhibit of Cassatt’s work alone, which my aunt and I also enjoyed together.
I always go back to Mary Cassatt and .Edgar Degas. When I learned about the Degas-Cassatt exhibit at the National Gallery last fall, I couldn’t wait to go. The only thing that marred the day was that my aunt didn’t want to go with me. So, I went alone and still managed to enjoy it.. Local media had publicized the show a great deal. The show explores their personal and professional relationship. Both artists learned from, influenced, and admired each other’s work. I particularly liked a painting by Degas of Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, where she is enjoying an exhibit. Her bak is turned to the viewer, but you can sense her enjoyment and excitement. I get that same feeling in a museum, too. Degas made numerous sketches and a print of the work. Cassatt learned printmaking from him. I also admired Degas’ fans.
Around this time, I discovered the novel I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. The author researched her subjects well. I felt as though Degas, Cassatt, and all the people around them come to life in this work. You cheer for them, celebrate their joys and empathize with their disappointments and sorrows. On occasion, you get really mad at them as well. Give it a try, and you’ll see what I mean. At the museum shop I bought a book about the Beaux Arts period in Paris. Also, I suspect that The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough, gives an excellent portrait of the era.
I also felt bad for Mary’s maid, who was devastated as she witnessed her boss destroy canvases she didn’t like and felt weren’t very good. If the maid had only known! She would have asked to take a painting she especially loved home with her.
Whenever I think of Cassatt’s work. I think mostly of her family portraits, and paintings of mothers with children–all of which move me very much.
I also found a biography of Cassatt at the library. I kept recalling another novel about the Cassatt family, told from the point of view of Mary’s sister, Lydia. It’s called Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, by Harriet Scott Chessman, 2003. It too is very beautiful.
Sometimes, aspects of my life can be told through refrigerator magnets. Here are two I bought that day:
“ART is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
“I have touched with a sense of art some people–they felt the love and the life.”
All in all, a good day, considering. I waited outside for MetroAccess. Since for once I didn’t feel like reading, I just looked around me. I decided to tilt my chair for a few minutes, and I happened to notice the cloud patterns. So I snapped the picture below on my cell phone.
On warm days, when my aunt and I can sit on our balcony, we look at the cloud patterns–a way she taught me to relax. We guess what they represent, which can be rather fun. I recalled those times as I waited.
The next day, I shared the souvenirs I bought and told my aunt about the paintings. She likes the fan that I bought, and still gets a kick out of my “Little Dancer” bookmark.