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Cassatt, The Child's Bath

Mary Cassatt, The Child's Bath, 1893, oil on canvas, 100.3 x 66.1 cm / 39-1/2 x 26 inches (Art Institute of Chicago). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Bonnie McLeish
    What was the painting shown at ? What is the story shown?
    (5 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Steven Zucker
      From the author:Hi Bonnie, thanks for all the terrific comments! At the very end of the video there is usually a credits page that lists all the other art shown in that video. So you can always check there. In this case at , its Degas's Dancer in the Wings at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
      (13 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user JZalonis
    Do you think Mary Cassatt is thought of primarily as a "woman artist" or as a gifted impressionist? I have always loved the way Mary Cassatt portrays women. Almost all her women look strong, intelligent, and thoughtful. Although many of them are portrayed in motherhood roles, she also captures women doing other things -- going to the opera, reading, boating, etc. She seems to know how to capture a moment and savor it, -- like the child's bath -- and may be trying to remind us to really SEE and appreciate those simple brief moments because they don't last.
    (9 votes)
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  • leafers sapling style avatar for user Iman Ismail
    I'm doing an Analysis Essay on Mary Cassatt's "The Child's Bath", and this video has truly helped me understand the beauty of the artwork. There are so many traits in this painting that would be missed by the untrained eye, but in reality, those qualities are what draw the attention of any all viewers. It's an exceptional work of art, and I am so glad it's become so appreciated. Cassatt had an incredible talent and passion for her work, and I'm sure glad she did.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Marcos Bardagi
    Can we really be sure that it is the mother? I'm looking at the dress of this woman and it seems to me very poor, more likely to be one used by a nanny. Also, taking into account that in other videos we have learned that the bourgeoisie normally did not perform such mundane tasks, these are the reasons for my suspicion...
    (0 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Jake Suzuki
      You assume it's a painting of a bourgeoisie family though; if you don't predicate your assumption from that point of view, then your suspiscions fall rather flat. I also don't see how one can assume the dress is cheap, or rather, inexpensive. You also assume that a bourgeoisie woman would never wear less fashionable and more utilitarian clothing in a domestic setting. I can't say that bourgeoisie women never performed "mundane" tasks like bathing their children.

      I can only see the tenderness of the two figures, their closeness and trust; and that atmosphere is really the only solid fact of the painting and it's greatest asset. I'd be more shocked if the painting was of a nanny than her mother, it's just too loving a scene.
      (4 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Rebecca Fitzgerald
    Was this painted from a model or the painters imagination?
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user jcw6448
    How does it relate to japanese art
    (1 vote)
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  • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
    in the painting shown at , it appears that the woman is checking her cell phone.

    Part of the reality of the Child's Bath picture is the multiplicity of designs of wallpaper, carpet, upholstery and the striped dress. almost makes one's eyes hurt!
    (1 vote)
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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)