The Anatomy of a Cassatt

In May of this year (2012) we sent Mother in a Large Hat Holding her Nude Baby by Mary Cassatt to the conservator to be evaluated and have a small area cleaned.  While at the conservator, multispectral images were taken that allowed us to see beneath the layers of this painting for the first time.  Multispectral imaging, including infrared and ultra violet fluorescence (UVF), have been used by many museums and conservators to help us understand the process by which an artist created their work.  Under drawings (the original sketches), modifications to the art by the artist, as well as later conservation work become clear when using this technique.  With many thanks to Dennis Baltuskonis we bring you these images!  This post is a continuation of The History of a Cassatt which outlines how the painting came to reside in our gallery.

Mother in a Large Hat Holding her Nude Baby, Seen from the Back View by Mary Cassatt, circa 1909, oil on canvas

When allowed to peek beneath the layers with near and far infrared imaging, we can see that Mary Cassatt created a quick sketch of the mother and baby but left the background blank of sketching.  It is also apparent that she made modifications to the hands, neck, hat, and contour of the face during the painting process.  These are the places where the under drawing does not match up with the finished painting.  There is also evidence of a small area of restoration on the mother’s face when viewed with UVF.

Near infrared (700-1000nm) image of Mother in a Large Hat by Mary Cassatt. The dark outlines visible around the mother and baby are the under drawing created by the artist.

In the detail of the left hand with near infrared imaging, you can see that Mary Cassatt decided after sketching to have the fingers of her left hand tuck unto the crook of her arm.

Detail of neck, face, and hat.

On the detail comparison of the neck, face, and hat you can see where Cassatt decided to change the outline of the top part of the hat.  In the under sketch there is no large bow or ribbon that extends up above the crown of the hat.  Cassatt also changed the contour of the neck slightly after sketching.  The posterior line of the neck in the painting is moved slightly back from the original line in the sketch.  You can also see where she modified the tip of the nose slightly.

Face detail with arrows to points of interest.

The under drawing is also very apparent when viewing the “false color” infrared image, which are created by added color to the black and white infrared image to create more contrast and allow more details to become apparent to the naked eye.  The under drawing appears as dark lines outlining the mother and baby.  These pop quite well on the left (viewer’s perspective) edge of the hat, the mother’s arms, and baby.

False color infrared image.

The dark spots on the mother’s face in the UVF image are evidence of later restoration work.  These appear as dark spots in this imaging technique as new paint does not fluoresce in the same manner as the original paint.

UVF detail of the face. Note the dark spots on the cheek. These are evidence of previous restoration work.

I hope you enjoyed taking a peek underneath the layers of this painting.  Mother in a Large Hat Holding her Nude Baby, Seen from the Back View is currently on display at the Forsyth Center Galleries.  If you are in the area stop by for a visit!

Carefully cleaning a spot on the painting!

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


Highlights from the Runyon and Byrd Majolica Collections

The new exhibition is finally open!  In the large gallery we have highlights from the Runyon Collection, which includes Steuben, Tiffany, and cameo glass as well as paintings by American Impressionist and Western artists.  The small gallery is housing pieces from the Marion Byrd Majolica Collection, specifically from the English Victorian era.  The VAC Gallery is currently featuring works by George Rodrigue, famous for his Blue Dog paintings and prints.  Highlights from the Runyon Collection runs until December 7th, the Majolica Collection is on display until November.  Come and see us soon!

English cameo glass vase, attributed to George Woodall
Mother in a Large Hat Holding her Nude Baby, Seen in the Back View by Mary Cassatt, circa 1909, oil on canvas
Taos Business District by Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, 1920, oil on board
English cameo glass perfume bottles
Manuelita by Nicolai Fechin, 1937, oil on canvas
Assorted Tiffany and Steuben Glass
English Victorian Majolica, before the cases are put back together
English cameo glass vase, George Woodall
Modern Comanche by Frederic Remington, 1890, oil on canvas