Rebeca Navarro's Top Picks of Mary Cassatt Paintings

Rebeca Navarro's Top Picks of Mary Cassatt Paintings

Mary Cassatt, a renowned American painter and printmaker, is celebrated as a significant figure in the Impressionist movement. Her artistic focus primarily revolved around capturing the intimate moments and daily lives of women and children, a theme that has enchanted audiences for more than a hundred years. Her ability to depict the subtle intricacies of female and familial relationships has made her work deeply resonant and enduring.

Rebeca Navarro, a respected art historian and tour guide, is well-known for her comprehensive "Mary Cassatt Part 1 and Part 2" art tours. She has carefully selected a collection of Cassatt's most impactful paintings. This carefully chosen assortment not only traces the development of Cassatt as an artist over the years but also offers an insightful look into the nuances of femininity and domestic life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through this selection, Navarro illuminates the historical and cultural contexts that shaped Cassatt's work, providing a deeper understanding of her artistic legacy.

1. Child Drinking Milk (1868)

Child drinking Milk

In this early piece by Mary Cassatt, the simplicity and innocence of childhood are tenderly portrayed, with a particular emphasis on color theory. The painting depicts a child in the simple, yet intimate act of drinking milk, a scene that radiates with serenity and purity. Cassatt's use of soft, muted colors enhances the sense of innocence and calmness, drawing the viewer into the quiet moment. The gentle hues and subtle contrasts in the composition reflect her early interest in themes of childhood and domestic life, using color to convey the emotional depth and simplicity of the scene.

2. After the Bullfight (1873)

Toreador smoking after the bullfight

Mary Cassatt painted "After the Bullfight" in 1873 during a period when she was living in Spain. This time in her life was significant for her exposure to various European cultures and artistic styles. Spain, known for its rich artistic heritage and the cultural tradition of bullfighting, provided a new and vibrant backdrop for Cassatt's work. This painting, which marks a deviation from her usual subjects, is a testament to her immersion in Spanish culture and her ability to adapt and draw inspiration from her surroundings. The artwork captures the dynamic and intense atmosphere following a bullfight, showcasing Cassatt's versatility and her skill in being able to capture details.  

3. Woman with a Pearly Necklace (1879)

Woman with a pearl necklace holding a fan in the theater

In this captivating painting by Cassatt, the play of light and color brings the female subject to life. The woman, gracefully wearing a pearly necklace, is bathed in a soft, diffused light that highlights her contemplative expression. This subtle interplay of light and shadow delicately enhances the mood of introspection, suggesting a deeper exploration into the inner world of women during that era. The color palette, with its understated elegance, complements the simplicity of the necklace, adding to the overall poignancy and depth of the portrayal.

4. Lilacs in a Window (1880)

Lilacs in a vase sitting in a windpw

This artwork is a striking example of the influence of Impressionism, seamlessly merging still life with landscape. The lilacs, set against a window, not only provide a view of the external world but also subtly hint at the societal constraints imposed on women during that period. The Impressionist style is evident in the way light and color are used to blur the lines between the interior and the exterior, creating a sense of depth and movement. This technique allows the viewer to perceive the outside world through the lens of the lilacs, symbolizing the limited perspective available to women of that era. The painting's loose brushstrokes and the interplay of light and shadow are quintessentially Impressionist, evoking a sense of immediacy and the fleeting nature of the moment.

5. Mother and Child (1880)

Mother hugging and kissing her child

The intimate connection between mother and child, a theme often revisited in Cassatt's art, is exquisitely depicted in this piece. This painting emanates a sense of warmth and affection, beautifully illustrating the deep, unspoken bond that exists between the pair. The tender interaction and the gentle embrace portrayed in the artwork speak volumes about the special relationship shared by mother and child, a subject Cassatt masterfully captures time and again in her work.

6. Children Playing on the Beach (1884)

Two sisters playing on the beach

This artwork vibrantly captures the essence of childhood freedom and playfulness, with a particular emphasis on color theory and blocking. The beach setting is rendered in bright, lively colors, creating a sense of openness and joy that starkly contrasts with the more muted, subdued tones often found in indoor scenes. Cassatt skillfully uses color blocking to separate the playful children from the expansive beach and sky, emphasizing the carefree nature of the scene. The strategic use of vibrant blues and yellows in the sky and sand, juxtaposed against the colorful attire of the children, enhances the feeling of a joyful, unrestricted outdoor environment. This contrast in color schemes effectively highlights the difference between the constrained indoor world and the liberating, open space of the beach, underscoring the themes of freedom and playfulness.

7. Lady at the Tea Table (1885)

Lady serving tea

In this painting, Cassatt delves into the social rituals of women, with a keen application of color theory to enhance the narrative. The lady at the tea table, deeply absorbed in her activity, is a study in elegance and poise, characteristics often associated with women in high society. Cassatt employs a sophisticated palette to underscore these qualities. The use of blue hues creates an atmosphere of refinement and grace, befitting the social standing of the woman depicted.

The subtle contrasts between the delicate colors of the wall behind her and the richer, deeper tones of her attire emphasize her prominence in the scene. This contrast not only draws the viewer's eye to the central figure but also mirrors the societal expectations of women to stand out in their elegance while conforming to their roles. The strategic use of light and shadow in the painting further accentuates the textures and fabrics, adding a layer of depth and realism to the scene. Through this thoughtful application of color theory, Cassatt not only captures the physical appearance of her subject but also conveys the underlying societal norms and expectations of the time.

8. Child in a Straw Hat (1886)

Child in a straw hat

 In this captivating portrait, Mary Cassatt brilliantly captures the essence of childhood innocence and unfiltered expression through the direct gaze and soft muted colors of her young subject. The delicate muted hues bring the child's youthful energy and spontaneity to life, while the curious expression creates an engaging and honest connection with the viewer. The addition of a straw hat adds a playful and carefree element, contrasting with the attire and background, drawing the viewer's attention to the expressive face and eyes. This contrast is accentuated by the interplay of light and shadow on the hat, adding depth to the child's features. Symbolizing outdoor play, learning, and adventure, the hat enhances the theme of childhood innocence, making the portrait not only visually striking but also rich in symbolism and emotional resonance. Cassatt's skillful use of color, texture, and composition in this painting vividly captures the fleeting, pure moments of childhood.

9. Emmie and her child (1889)

Mother holding her child

 In this rendition of the mother-child theme, Mary Cassatt masterfully employs color theory to delve into the emotional connection and tender moments shared between the two. She skillfully selects a harmonious color palette of soft, muted tones to evoke warmth and intimacy, essential in illustrating their bond. These pastel shades create a calming atmosphere, focusing on the expressions and gestures that highlight their interaction. Subtle contrasts in color draw the viewer's eye to the faces and hands, the focal points of their tender exchange, without being jarring. Additionally, the interplay of light and shadow, achieved through color gradients, adds a three-dimensional quality, enhancing the lifelike portrayal of the emotional exchange. Cassatt's strategic use of light colors against a darker background emphasizes the subjects, making them the central focus and imbuing the painting with a poignant and heartfelt tribute to the deep and universal bond of mother and child.

10. Celeste in a Brown Hat (1891)

Portrait of a woman dressed in brown

 In this portrait, the artist's use of a brown color palette is executed with remarkable skill, creating a rich tapestry of shades that add depth and complexity to the composition. The varying tones of brown, from deep, earthy hues to lighter, softer tints, work together to frame and highlight Celeste's features, drawing attention to the subtleties of her expression. This choice of color not only complements her complexion and attire but also sets a mood that is both warm and introspective. The interplay of light and shadow within these brown tones further accentuates the contours of her face, lending a sculptural quality to her visage. This, in turn, deepens the sense of mystery and introspection that her expression conveys. The thoughtful application of these brown shades creates an ambiance that is reflective and enigmatic, inviting the viewer to ponder the thoughts and emotions that might be playing across Celeste's mind, thereby adding a rich, contemplative dimension to the portrait.

11. Baby Reach for an Apple (1893)

Baby held in mother's arms reaching for an apple

 In this painting, the delightful depiction of a baby's curiosity and the simple joys of discovery are vividly brought to life through the strategic use of positioning and color theory. The scene, capturing the baby reaching for an apple, is imbued with immediacy and charm, highlighted by a palette of bright, vibrant colors that accentuate the child's innocence and the freshness of the moment. The apple, golden yellow, symbolizes new experiences and the innate desire for exploration in children. A dynamic contrast is created between the baby's attire and the softer, more subdued background of the mother's dress, drawing the viewer's attention to the outstretched hand and the object of the baby's fascination. This contrast not only guides the viewer's eye through the painting but also underscores the theme of discovery. Additionally, the play of light in the scene enhances the immediacy, casting highlights on the baby's face and reaching hand, adding depth and dimension while creating a warm, inviting atmosphere. This thoughtful combination of color and light not only captures a charming moment but also resonates with the universal feelings of wonder and exploration characteristic of early childhood.

12. The Child's Bath (1893)

Mother giving her child a bath

 "The Child's Bath" (1893), one of Mary Cassatt's most celebrated works, exemplifies not only a celebration of maternal care but also the significant influence of Japanese woodblock prints on her artistry. The composition, characterized by its simplicity and the intimate interaction between mother and child, echoes the clarity and focused approach typical of Japanese aesthetics. This influence is further evident in Cassatt's use of flat areas of color and minimal background detail, a departure from traditional Western techniques, which intensifies the emotional connection between the subjects and the viewer. The bold yet harmonious color palette, along with the contrast between the figures and their surroundings, draws from the vibrant and balanced schemes found in Japanese art. Moreover, the patterns and textiles in the painting, reminiscent of traditional Japanese garments, underscore this Eastern influence. Through these elements, "The Child's Bath" not only portrays a tender maternal scene but also reflects Cassatt's integration of Japanese artistic principles, showcasing how they profoundly shaped her unique approach to capturing intimate, everyday moments.

13. The Boating Party (1893-94)

Mother and Father and Baby on a boat

 "The Boating Party" (1893-94) by Mary Cassatt, a striking depiction of outdoor leisure activities of the era, showcases her mastery in portraying outdoor scenes with emotional depth, while also reflecting the influence of Japanese art techniques. The composition of the painting, with its unique perspective and framing, echoes the Japanese approach of asymmetry and flat spatial planes, a notable deviation from traditional Western perspectives. Cassatt's use of light in this work, capturing the shimmering effects on the water and the delicate interplay of shadows, is reminiscent of the subtle yet powerful use of light in Japanese prints. Furthermore, the bold, flat areas of color and the minimal background detail draw a direct connection to the stylized forms and vibrant color palettes typical in Japanese art. This painting, therefore, not only captures a leisurely boating scene with profound emotional resonance but also serves as a testament to the impact of Japanese artistic techniques on Cassatt's development as an Impressionist painter, blending Eastern and Western artistic traditions in a harmonious and innovative manner.

14. A Kiss for Baby Anne (1897)

Mother kissing her baby
"A Kiss for Baby Anne" (1897) stands out as a tender and emotive portrayal of affection, capturing the essence of a simple yet powerful gesture within the intimate bond of family. In this artwork, Cassatt masterfully renders the kiss with a remarkable softness and delicacy, using a palette of gentle hues that enhance the tenderness of the moment. The subtlety in the brushstrokes and the interplay of light and shadow on the figures' faces add depth and realism, inviting the viewer into this private, affectionate exchange. The composition, focusing closely on the figures, creates an immediate sense of connection and warmth, encapsulating the purity and sincerity of the gesture. The background, rendered in muted tones, ensures that the viewer's attention remains fixed on the central act of the kiss, highlighting its significance and emotional impact. This artwork, therefore, not only depicts a moment of familial love but also resonates deeply with the viewer, evoking universal feelings of affection and the profound connections that bind us.

15. Mother and Child (1900)

Mother holding her baby

 In "Mother and Child" (1900), Mary Cassatt beautifully revisits her beloved theme, offering an introspective and mature portrayal of the mother-child relationship at the turn of the century, deeply enriched by her masterful use of color theory. The painting's palette, with its bold red tones, envelops the figures in warmth and intimacy, highlighting the depth and complexity of their bond. Cassatt skillfully employs muted backgrounds, drawing the viewer's focus to the subjects and using contrasting yet harmonious colors to underscore the emotional intensity of the scene. The nuanced interplay of light and shadow across their faces, achieved through subtle color gradients, adds a lifelike quality, enhancing the realism of their connection. This application of color theory not only captures the physical likeness but also conveys the profound emotional and psychological depth of the mother-child bond, making the painting a poignant and evocative reflection of familial love and connection.

16. Spring Margot Standing in a Garden (1900)

Portrait of girl wearing a bonnet

This painting stands as a vibrant celebration of youth and the beauty of nature, capturing the essence of life's vitality and the harmonious connection between humans and the natural world. In it, Margot is depicted standing amidst a lush green garden, a setting that symbolizes the blossoming of life and the cyclical nature of growth and renewal. The vivid colors used to portray the garden - a palette of bright greens - not only bring the scene to life but also reflect the energy and vibrancy of youth. Margot, positioned at the center, is a representation of human youth in its prime, mirroring the garden in its peak bloom. The way the colors of her clothing contrast with the colors of the surrounding flora suggests a deep, intrinsic link between her growth and the garden's natural beauty. This connection is further emphasized by the interplay of light and shadow in the painting, which dances across Margot and the garden alike, symbolizing the unity and interdependence of all living things. The use of contrasting colors and textures creates a dynamic visual experience, drawing the viewer's eye to both the subject and her environment, and highlighting the symbiotic relationship between them. Through this painting, the artist not only celebrates the exuberance of youth and the splendor of nature but also invites contemplation on the deeper connections that bind us to the natural world around us.

17. Margot in Blue (1902)

Portrait of girl wearing blue dress

In "Margot in Blue" (1902), the striking use of color theory plays a pivotal role in enhancing the portrait's impact. Margot, adorned in blue, is set against a more muted background, a deliberate choice that draws the viewer's attention directly to her contemplative expression and the subtle nuances of her personality. The blue of her dress, a color often associated with depth and stability, not only captures Margot's serene and introspective nature but also creates a visual focal point in the painting. This use of a monochromatic scheme for the subject contrasts effectively with the understated tones of the background, allowing Margot to emerge vividly from her surroundings. The choice of a cooler palette for her attire against the warmer, subdued hues of the backdrop also plays into the emotional tone of the portrait, suggesting a sense of calm introspection amidst a more complex, perhaps less defined, external environment. 

18. Francoise in Green, Sewing (1908-09)

Portrait of girl wearing green dress

 "Francoise in Green, Sewing" (1908-09) is a poignant portrayal by Mary Cassatt that highlights the everyday activities of women, emphasizing their significant role in the domestic sphere. In this painting, Francoise is depicted as deeply absorbed in the act of sewing, a task that symbolizes the often overlooked yet essential contributions of women to daily life. The painting is a tribute to the quiet dignity and grace that women bring to these routine tasks. Cassatt's choice to depict Francoise in the act of sewing, a traditionally feminine and domestic activity, speaks volumes about the artist's recognition and respect for the quiet strength and resilience found in such mundane tasks. The attention to detail in Francoise's posture and the concentration on her face conveys a deep sense of engagement and skill, reflecting the importance and skill involved in domestic work. The setting of the painting, likely a homely interior, further reinforces the domestic theme and provides a glimpse into the private world of women at the time. Cassatt's use of soft, warm colors creates a sense of calm and serenity, highlighting the peaceful and meditative quality of sewing. Through this painting, Cassatt not only captures a moment in Francoise's life but also offers a broader commentary on the role of women in society, celebrating their contributions and the understated elegance inherent in their daily lives.

19. The Crochet Lesson (1913)

Mother giving daughter crochet lesson

This painting beautifully captures the essence of intergenerational bonding, portraying an older woman as she imparts the skill of crocheting to a young girl. It stands as a poignant celebration of tradition and the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. The scene is rich with symbolism, representing not just the transfer of a practical skill, but also the deeper transmission of cultural heritage, values, and family stories that are often shared in such intimate settings. The older woman, with her patient demeanor and gentle guidance, embodies the role of the mentor and guardian of tradition, while the young girl, attentive and eager to learn, symbolizes the continuity of this legacy. The act of crocheting, a skill that requires patience and precision, serves as a metaphor for the intricate and delicate nature of these intergenerational relationships. The painting is imbued with a sense of warmth and affection, evident in the close proximity of the figures and their shared activity. The artist's use of soft, harmonious colors further enhances the sense of continuity and connection between the two individuals. Through this artwork, the artist not only captures a simple moment of teaching and learning but also celebrates the broader theme of intergenerational connection and the enduring nature of familial bonds and traditions. 

 In conclusion, this curated collection of Mary Cassatt's paintings offers a profound journey through the various facets of human experience, from the innocence of childhood to the complexities of maternal bonds, and the enduring connections across generations. Each painting, with its unique theme and composition, reflects Cassatt's extraordinary ability to capture the essence of her subjects with depth, sensitivity, and a rich use of color. From the playful innocence in "Children Playing on the Beach" to the intimate "Mother and Child" moments, and the poignant "The Crochet Lesson" depicting intergenerational bonding, Cassatt's work transcends time, inviting viewers to reflect on the universal aspects of life. Her paintings not only showcase her skill as an artist but also her profound understanding of the human condition, making her work an enduring testament to the beauty and complexity of everyday life. Through this collection, we gain a deeper appreciation for Cassatt's contribution to art and her unique perspective on the world around her, solidifying her place as a pivotal figure in the Impressionist movement and a chronicler of life's intimate moments.

Rebeca Navarro Art Historian

 Rebeca, a proud Latina with a rich academic background, holds an MA in Contemporary Art and the Market from Christie’s Education in New York, and another MA in Museology from the Instituto Iberoamericano de Museología in Spain. Her journey in the art world began with an internship in the photographs department at Christie’s New York, giving her a firsthand experience of the auction world. She then contributed her skills to The Creativity Lab at MoMA, engaging with museum visitors in discussions about art. Her career further evolved as she took on the role of Head of Visitor Engagement at a kunsthalle in Brooklyn, where she led insightful weekend tours on conceptual art. Additionally, Rebeca channels her passion for art through her podcast, Arte INclusivo-Inclusive Art, where she creates content that resonates with a wide audience. With a love for public speaking, she looks forward to connecting with and inspiring diverse groups in her upcoming tours.


Plain, Nancy Mary Cassatt an Artist's Life 1994 Dillon Press


Back to blog