National Gallery of Art mounts rare Degas/Cassatt combined show

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 9, 2014 

— For lovers of the Impressionists, there’s stunning new exhibit here at the National Gallery of Art. The new summer show celebrates the art of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt with paintings, pastels and etchings. It will run through Oct. 5.

Some of the works come from the National Gallery’s extensive collections, while others were borrowed from museums in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Degas was known for his paintings and pastels of dancers and the Paris scene. Cassatt is probably better known for her drawings and paintings of mothers and children. They became mutual admirers of each other’s art in the 1870s. Cassatt first exhibited her work at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879.

After studying the scant written correspondence between and about them, and reading historical anecdotes, curator Kimberly Jones of the National Gallery says their relationship became “not teacher and student, not mentor and protégé, as many historical texts would have you believe, but rather a dialogue between peers, between colleges, between equals.”

In other words, they were friends as well as artists, not rivals.

On display in “Degas/Cassatt” will be a freshly cleaned and restored “Little Girl in Blue Armchair,” which is the only painting Degas and Cassatt worked on together.

In a 1903 letter, Cassatt wrote ‘“that Degas admired the painting, he counseled her, and even worked on the background.” The letter is on display in the show.

Degas was an avid collector and had more than 100 works by Cassatt, the majority of them prints.

In 1886, at the end of the last Impressionist show, Cassatt and Degas exchanged art pieces. She got a pastel nude of a woman washing herself called “Woman in a Shallow Tub” while he got her painting called “Girl Arranging Her Hair.” He kept it for the rest of his life in his apartment. This painting later became part of a collection given to the National Gallery of Art by Chester Dale in 1962.

Jones says that “this is the very first time since 1886 that these two works will have been seen together. And since the Chester Dale painting can never be lent … this is the only time this will ever happen.”

The only portrait of Cassatt by Degas was cleaned and restored and is on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. Later in life, Cassatt didn’t like the painting so much and quietly sold it off, says Jones.

The National Gallery has the third largest set of Degas works in the world, according to Director Earl A. Powell III, and an extensive collection of Cassatt paintings and drawings. Other pieces were loaned from Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; the Library of Congress in Washington, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and private collections.



National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

May 11 to Oct. 5, 2014

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