Learning Curve: Mary Cassatt’s adventures in Printmaking at the NYPL

Often, the prints we see in museums and on exhibits are the success stories – a perfect impression pulled by a master printer. The starts and stops of multiple states and failed experiments rarely show up in frames – this is why Daring Methods: The Prints of Mary Cassatt, currently up at the New York Public Library, is so refreshing. The show documents Cassatt’s experimentations with several print media, and includes multiple states and cancelled plates. Wry frustration with print processes also comes through in the show. One litho, Woman Seated at a Loge (1881, pictured above), is annotated in part “this early and only attempt at lithography.” Apparently, she never picked up a litho crayon again. In other prints, pets appear and disappear, images are cropped, and experiments abandoned. The show also contains many color prints directly inspired by ukiyo-e, Japanese Woodblock prints. Interestingly, the prints are not woodblocks, but intaglio prints in which etching and aquatint line is inked a à la poupée – in which the plate is inked with multiple colors and run through the press in a single pass. If you can get past all the babies and bathers, these are a pretty interesting appropriation of aesthetic and ornament – rendered through a different culture gaze and different print technique. In these later prints, Cassatt has gained confidence with the medium. Here again, you get to see multiple states of individual works, including cancelled plates. Of these I think The Fitting (1891), presents a stunning insight into Cassatt’s process, juxtaposing color swaths and ornamental patterning with drypoint and aquatint.
New York Public Library Schwartzman (Main Branch) Building, Through June 23, Free.

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2 Responses to “Learning Curve: Mary Cassatt’s adventures in Printmaking at the NYPL”

  1. Alison Dell says:

    Hey Jason! Thanks for pointing to Hyperallergic’s piece – its a great celebration of the Avery Collection.