Mary Cassatt - The Boating Party (1893)
Size: 35.43" x 46.18"
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Currently placed at: The National Gallery of Art - Washington DC
Mary Stevenson Cassatt was an American painter. She was born in Pennsylvania but lived much of her adult life in France. Cassatt, often created images of the social and private lives of women, with an emphasis on the intimate bonds between a mother and child. She enjoyed the wave of feminism, which occurred in the mid-1800s, which allowed more open access to education institutions. At the time, many impressionists painted landscapes and street scenes, but Cassatt was keen on portraits.
The Boating Party, depicts a woman, baby and a man in a sailboat. It is one of her most massive oil paintings and is considered unusual for a variety of reasons, one being that Cassatt usually painted with a garden or a park and this is painted on a boat. It does carry the theme of a mother and child as do most of her work, but in this painting, Cassatt contrasts the dark figures of the oarsman with colorfully dressed figures of the mother and child. It is believed that Mary Cassatt painted this picture during the winter of 1893 - 1894, on the French Riviera.
The lines of the boat, sail and rower are very clean as the color of the sail and boat are somewhat flat. The three dimensional effect where the boat seems as it appears to move towards the viewer is brilliant. The sea is painted in an impressionistic style as Cassatt has used bold brush strokes and played with the light. If observed carefully, it is seen that all the lines come together at one point, the mother and child, the curve of the boat, the oar, the sail and the arm of the boatman. Considering the way, the boat is placed, the viewer may feel as if they are another passenger.
The colors used are bright, giving out a summer vibe! Only the man is dressed in black which sets him apart. The mother and child are dressed in muted tones. The relationship between the figures is uncertain, even though they glance at each other showing a more intimate relationship, it is left to the imagination of the viewer.
Cassatt, visited the Japanese Print Exhibition in Paris in the year 1890, and she started collecting Japanese prints which had a great influence on her future work. The style is visible at several points on this painting of The Boating Party.
The bold composition reveals the influence of the flat, patterned surfaces, simplified color and the unusual angles of the Japanese prints. She has placed the horizon at the very top of the frame. These prints and angles were very much in vogue during the 1800s.
Fredrick A Sweet, an Art historian and museum administrator says it is "One of the most ambitious paintings she ever attempted" .