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Video transcript

(lively music) Beth: Looking at this painting by Mary Cassatt, called The Child's Bath, at the Art Institute of Chicago, reminds me of how little we see this subject in art history of a mother and a daughter and the intimacy that they share. We do see a mother and child. Steven: Quite a bit. That would be the Madonna and the young Christ, but that's a spiritual image. By the time we get to the late 19th Century, that's a much less common image than it was during the Renaissance or the Baroque. Beth: There's an intimacy here that feels so familiar to me, and it brings back memories of holding my own daughter on my lap. Steven: I'm really struck by these passages where the tactile experience of these figures seems just overwhelming. Look at the way in which the mother seems to press against the top of the foot as it's held from below, and look at the way the child, in response, seems to replicate the pressure that the mother is applying as she presses into her own thigh. Beth: Then there's this lovely way that the child seems a little bit trepidatious, and leans back. And the part that I like best is the way that the mother seems to be speaking to her. Mouth is slightly opened, and she seems to be maybe telling her a story, or saying something reassuring. Steven: I love the way that the child is also sort of bracing herself against her mother's knee. Beth: And her mother puts her left arm around the child to steady her. There's just wonderful attention to the child's body here. Steven: One of the aspects of the painting that is so convincing is the way in which their attention is so focused on each other, and, in a sense, we're drawn into that experience. They're looking down at the basin pretty much at the same angle that Mary Cassatt has placed our perspective. Beth: We really look sharply down at these figures in this unusual angle. It's something that Degas also employed in an effort to show things in the way that we might really see them, so that instead of something looking very composed, the way it normally does, for example in an academic painting, we look at things from rather unexpected angles, the way we do in real life. Steven: Look for instance at the foreshortened faces. That's the kind of distortion that a painter would generally try to avoid. But perhaps the most stark distortion takes place in the relationship between the lips of the basin, where the child's feet are, and the vase at the lower right. It's as if they're seen from different perspectives. Beth: It's incredibly compressed. We can't see how much space there is of the room behind them. There's a sense of patterning throughout that really flattens the space that might remind us of Japanese prints. It's just really pleasurable to look at, but it's also so obviously a tour de force of painting by this artist, and I'm really grateful that she did a painting of a mother and child. It's just lovely to see. (lively music)