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Except for some painterly detail, this fictional biography of US artist Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), the Impressionist who spent most of her life in France, is tinny and bland--with unconvincing personal relationships and a timid, decorous sketch of Cassatt herself. Dismayed by the rigidity of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, where only dark and mellow is beautiful, Mary is finally allowed to travel to Paris, break from an academic training--and see her first Degas at the Durand-Reul gallery: ""There was enough movement and sunshine to take her breath away."" After more traveling, a trip home (losing paintings in a Chicago tire), and a brief love affair with a male model, Mary will finally meet Degas, ""pride showing in the way he held his head."" They converse politely; things pick up when Edgar shows her some magic with steam, pastels, and fixative; things slow down when, much later, they make love. (""Time was extended and preserved in the warmth of her mind and the memory of her quavering nerve endings."") King does walk the reader through some of Cassatt's problem-solvings in a series of paintings and prints; there are some illuminating discussions which highlight the controversies within the Impressionist movement. And Degas--ruthlessly honest, a ""joyless realist""--is at least a vividly outlined presence. But Mary, who never marries and remains Degas' friend after love wanes, is a stubbornly remote figure--tantalizing only in potential. And this is a tame wash of a place, rime, and heroine deserving of more spirited treatment.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1983
Publisher: Beaufort