The History of a Cassatt

Our new exhibition, “Highlights from the Runyon Collection,” opened on Monday, September 3rd, and runs until December 7th, 2012.  In addition to the many incredible pieces of Steuben, Tiffany, and cameo glass, we are also featuring a number of paintings from the collection amassed by Bill and Irma Runyon.  Every so often I plan to feature a piece on this blog and give you a glimpse into its history and travels before it came to us.  Within our object files you will find a slice of history and maybe some mystery as well!

“Mother in a Large Hat Holding her Nude Baby, Seen from the Back View” by Mary Cassatt, circa 1909, Forsyth Center Galleries

Today’s feature will be in two parts.  This first post covers the history of the piece and where it has moved around the world.  The second post will cover the “anatomy” of the painting and will include images that look through the layers of paint (infrared reflectography).  Tune back in to the same channel for “The Anatomy of a Cassatt” coming soon!

Detail showing the vibrant brushstrokes used to create the background trees.

Today’s featured object is the oil painting Mother in a large hat holding her nude baby, seen from the back view by Mary Cassatt.  It is a lesser known piece by the famous female American impressionist and is dated to circa 1909.  As with most of Cassatt’s works, it features a mother and child.  The unnamed woman is holding a nude baby, who has his/her head laid on her left shoulder.  The mother is wearing a white hat with blue ribbon and a plum colored, short sleeved dress.  They are outside with the corner of a house and trees in the background.

Close up of the mother’s right sleeve

The background is mainly in vibrant greens.  The mother’s face and baby pop off the background with the highly contrasting colors between the green of the trees and the flesh, yellow, and pink tones of their skin.  In the lower right corner the painting is signed, “Mary Cassatt.”  It is one of her later works and was painted only 5 years before she was forced to stop painting in 1914 after developing cataracts.  The closeup images show the vigorous brushstrokes used to create the work.

Closeup showing the back of the baby’s head and neck
Mary Cassatt’s signature on “Mother in a Large Hat Holding her Nude Baby” circa 1909

The painting originally resided with the Cassatt family until approximately 1945 at which point it made its way to Paris with Jacques Seligmann.  Seligmann sold it to Pedro Vallenilla of Venezuela in 1960.  In 1961 it was purchased by Hirschl & Adler Galleries of New York, New York, after which it was purchased by Renee Helfer and was exhibited in 1962.  In 1969 it was purchased by the Coe Kerr Gallery for $140,000 (just under $874,000 if purchased today with inflation rates) and sold to Dr. Carl F. Rainone of Arlington, Texas, where it resided in his gallery (Fine Art Investment) until 1973.

A closeup of the brushstrokes that create the background.

Irma Runyon purchased the painting in 1973 for she and her husband Bill’s (Texas A&M class of ’35) personal art collection.  Bill & Irma Runyon created the Forsyth Galleries with an endowment and the painting came to reside with us.  Mother in a Large Hat has moved around the world from France to Venezuela to New York to several cities in Texas.  We’re very pleased to be able to display her for your enjoyment!

Detail of the mother and baby



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