THE LIFE OF MARY CASSATT by Nancy Hale

THE LIFE OF MARY CASSATT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Because of Nancy Hale's attuned The Life in the Studio (1969), she was commissioned to do this biography of Cassatt--the first since Sweet's definitive one and he sponsors it generously--""This is a Splendid Book!"" One could perhaps fault it quietly for its (psycho)analytic hypothecations and some of the feminine proselytizing particularly in connection with her mother-and-child pictures (""ambassador of maternity to the world"") which Cassatt no doubt invites. But Miss Hale is infinitely scrupulous in not only recording the details but in her own custodial dedication to interpret art as a beginning and end unto itself, proprietary and exclusive (""an artist's work is his life,"" to be ""translated""). Mary Cassatt's life was essentially a quiet one--divided between her painting and the family she never left and which later never left her--they joined her in Paris after she was beginning to be known. From Correggio, earlier, she had appropriated the infinite charms of his cherubs; Degas who became her mentor-friend (not lover) of many years, with whom she shared a strong mutuality, gave her the impetus to paint those mothers and young children along with the serene domestic scenes and gardens which would make up the corpus of her work. Cassatt, the woman, was a consistent one; plain, without suitors, as a young gift; not very feminine later on; always forthright, energetic, independent and as chaste as her white crepe de chine studio smock. After her acceptance abroad as an Impressionist, and peak years with Degas and their associates, the end was to be all downhill; her accident on a horse in 1888; her disastrous, psychically debilitating trip to Egypt; her failing eyesight; the loss of Degas and other friends; her longtime disregard in the U.S. where she is now considered (faute de mieux?) our greatest woman painter. Miss Hale is very true to her subject and her time rather than ours (making much of Cassatt's ""precious discovery--women's powers of giving birth and cherishing"") but her biography manifests unquestionable care and sympathic tact.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1975
Publisher: Doubleday