Mary Cassatt’s 1897 canvas Breakfast in Bed is a moving and experiential reproduction from life of a domestic scene. Born in Pennsylvania, Mary Cassatt acquainted herself with the European avant-garde when she settled in Paris in 1873, remaining there for the rest of her life. In 1877, both Cassatt’s entries to the Paris Salon were rejected and she began to become pessimistic about her talent. However, she was invited by the painter Edgar Degas to exhibit at one of the independent Impressionist exhibitions. Embracing the shimmering luminosity of the Impressionists, Cassatt became a part of the small informal group, and close friends with Degas. Degas has since become closely identified with the theme of capturing movement –capturing the effects of bodily movement in the same way that Monet and Renoir replicated the shimmering effects of light on water. His works have a psychological depth and a profound sense of isolation and existential loneliness. Like Degas, Cassatt stands out amongst her Impressionist contemporaries who tended to gaze at women rather than represent them and thus immersed himself in the complexities of domestic life.
Breakfast in Bed is suffused with the bright colors, broad brushstrokes, and the careful reproduction of the effects of light that first allowed her to be exhibited alongside the Impressionists. The vibrant contours and surprising rhythms seem to emerge organically from the natural world, with the charismatic dabs and sharp brush-strokes creating a visual impression that dances across the canvas. Delving almost into abstraction, the human figures are used merely to anchor the painting against the comforting bedding. Woman and child awake together in bed benefiting from an atmosphere of mutual support, in this subtle and emotionally resonant image. A recurring theme in her works, Cassatt’s curiosity with the interplay between mother and child revealed the joy, tension, and revelatory simplicity in the domestic experience.
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