Sewing by Lamplight

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Mary Cassatt
Sewing by Lamplight
ca. 1882
Soft-ground etching.
7 11/16 x 5 1/2 inches (195 x 146 mm)
Purchased as the gift of Jan P. and Warren J. Adelson, Marc Rosen and Susan Pinsky, and Mrs. John Hay Whitney.
The artist's studio, Paris; from whom acquired ca. 1904-06 by Ambroise Vollard, Paris; by descent to his heirs; from whom acquired by Henri M. Petiet, Paris; by descent to his heirs; private collection, New York; from whom acquired by Marc Rosen Fine Art, Ltd., New York; Adelson Galleries, Inc., New York.

Signed with initials at lower right, in pencil, "M.C."


Mary Cassatt was one of the most innovative printmakers of her time. She was initially resistant to drawing and produced very few preparatory studies for paintings. But by the start of the 1880s Cassatt began to embrace drawing as part of her process creating prints. Her etchings from this period were highly experimental, and, with few exceptions, created in small runs and not publicly exhibited. This soft-ground etching, made in only one state of which only a single impression is known, is such a work. The preparatory drawing (inv. no. 2006.33), also in the Morgan's collection, retains visible markers of Cassatt's process including creases from being folded over the plate and an offset image of the soft-ground preserved on the verso of the sheet, which indicates Cassatt used the drawing to transfer the design directly onto the plate.
In 1880 Cassatt's mother and her sister Lydia, who was suffering from chronic kidney disease, left Pennsylvania to live with Cassatt in Paris. Over the next two years Cassatt increasingly depicted domestic life and tasks using her family and close friends as subjects in works such as "Knitting in the Library" (inv. no. 1988.127), also in the Morgan's collection.. The sombre mood found in the etchings from this period may reflect the atmosphere at Cassatt's home as Lydia's disease progressed. The models for the women in this scene may be the family's maid Mathilde Valet, or Valet's cousin Susan, and possibly Cassat's sister Lydia, shortly before her death in 1882.

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