If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast In Bed, 1897 (Huntington Library) Speakers: Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Video transcript

(jazzy music) Male: We're in Pasadena, California at Female: Actually, I think it's San Marino. Male: Okay, we're in San Marino, California at the Huntington Library. We're looking at a painting by Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, which is dated to approximately 1894. It's really a gorgeous little painting. Female: It is; it's very beautiful. We see a woman lying in bed, just the upper part of her body, and she's got her arms around, I don't know, a three-year-old, a two- or three-year-old. Male: Two-year-old maybe, yeah. Very red-cheeked. Female: Yeah, very rosy-cheeked. The mother's sort of looking off out of the canvas in a very wistful way. Male: Whereas the child is absolutely present in the space, and upright and active. Female: That's true. Male: She is holding the child almost with her arm like a seat belt. Female: Right, so she doesn't slip off the bed. Male: Sort of restraining the child. Female: It's true, you can see that there's something on the mother's mind, but not the child. Male: No, it's true. The child is really in this moment, and the mother has a much broader kind of perspective. It's this incredible kind of contrast between their attentions that is really intimate and really powerfully expressed, and beautifully. Female: There's a lot of Finish, I think, or more Finish in their faces, but then all of these loose luscious brushstrokes in the whitish blue of the pillow and the bed, and even in the flesh of their skin is hatch marks of paint that are very visible. Male: There's something incredibly abstract about the way that the volumetric forms of the limbs are in contrast to the relative flatness of her nightgown, of the child's outfit, and the sheets and the pillows, all of which is white. There's this really complex interplay of those limbs against this relatively abstract painterly set of forms. Female: Although there is hatching of blues and red in the tones of their skin. But it's true, there is more painterliness. It looks like a very casual moment. You can see if you just study it a little more carefully how carefully composed it is. Male: Absolutely. Female: There's this diagonal line formed by the mother's body, but then there's blocks Male: The side of her face, yes. Female: The side of her face, right. These blocks of green that frame it. Male: And darkness. Actually, and the fourth corner is picked up by kind of a deeper tone in the sheets as well. Female: So she's sort of locked into place by those geometric forms, and then the cup and saucer. Male: But I'm really taken by this notion of attention and the relative difference of the attentions of the two figures, but also in the way that Cassatt seems to be constructing our visual attention, focusing on those faces, on the limbs to a lesser extent to the white and to the greens around them. There seems to be this really wonderful kind of agreement between the subject and actually the choices that the artist made in representation. Female: Yup, it's a beautiful painting. (jazzy music)