Adelson Galleries, Inc.
From the Artists Studio
Treasure Trove of 200 "Lost" Works by American Impressionist Mary Cassatt to be sold in November. Like finding another Declaration of Independence, the recent discovery of a trove of unknown works by the prominent American Impressionist, Mary Cassatt, is an extraordinary event.
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Given the modest number of works that Cassatt created over her nearly 50 year career, the recent discovery of more than 200 rare works, including exceptional color prints, drypoints and drawings is a windfall for collectors, institutions and the art-loving public that will shine the spotlight even more brightly on this beloved American artist.
Heiress, Rebel, Artist
Born in 1844 to a wealthy Pennsylvania family, Mary Cassatt settled permanently in Paris in 1874. She quickly befriended the leading independent artists of the movement now known as Impressionism: Degas, Pissarro, Monet, and Manet.
By 1879 she was exhibiting with the Impressionists, a radical move for any woman artist and an especially daring one for an American of genteel upbringing. While allying herself with the cutting-edge art world, she was not a bohemian. Instead of depicting that side of modern life favored by her contemporaries, she chronicled the polite activities of the bourgeoisie: visits to the opera, fittings for gowns, and leisurely or very private moments shared between children and their care-givers. Today, Cassatt is not only considered one of the greatest American Impressionists, but is also the only American artist whose works are regularly shown in the same context as the major French Impressionists; her oil paintings, pastels, prints and drawings are avidly sought by collectors and are featured in most important museum collections.
While some in her circle dabbled in the production of prints, she made the medium her own, producing a range of hauntingly beautiful images. From their first exhibition in 1880, her prints earned Cassatt a reputation as a premier printmaker and caused her renown to soar, in both France and America. She had begun printmaking as early as 1879 and during the ensuing decade perfected her technique and her ability to capture intensely personal 'moments' in sensuous, beautifully inked etchings and drypoints. But it was not until 1890, after seeing an exhibition of Japanese woodblocks by Utamaro, among others, that her real printmaking genius emerged.
Using aquatint and drypoint techniques, Cassatt demonstrates a unique ability to achieve dramatic yet nuanced colors within finely rendered compositions. Clearly, the vivid tones and sensuous lines of Japanese prints profoundly inspired her. In a letter to fellow artist Berthe Morisot, Cassatt wrote, "We could go to see the Japanese prints at the Beaux-Arts' you couldn't dream of anything more beautiful. I dream of it and don't think of anything else but color on copper." Her major achievement came not just in her technical innovations in the field of color prints but also in her thorough grasp of the aesthetic vocabulary of the Japanese works. Cassatt’s fellow artists recognized this and applauded her unique accomplishment. Writing to his son Lucien, Camille Pissarro exclaimed: "You remember the effects you strove for at Eragny? Well, Miss Cassatt has realized just such effects, and admirably: the tone even, subtle, delicate, without stains on seams: adorable blues, fresh rose, etc."
Sometime between 1906 and 1914, as Cassatt neared the end of her career, she was coaxed into selling her "studio collection" -- personal works that she preferred to keep in her atelier for sentimental or archival purposes -- to Ambroise Vollard, an energetic dealer who was making a splash on the Paris art scene. Vollard tucked away the collection, which comprised over 200 drawings, monotypes, and the exquisite color aquatints for which Cassatt won accolades. Whether he ever intended to start selling from this trove, World War I intervened, ravaging Europe and the art market; then, on the eve of World War II, Vollard was killed in a car accident, never having had the opportunity to exhibit his remarkable collection.
Acquired by a Collector Vollard’s heirs sold the group en masse to a French collector, who stored them safely away from the destructive forces of light, dust, dirt and human hands. They were seen only rarely by an occasional friend or selected members of the art community. Two of them were Marc Rosen and Susan Pinsky.
A Long Courtship Rosen, then head of Sotheby's Print Department worldwide, and later also Senior Expert for Impressionist and Modern Art, was introduced to the collector in the mid-1970's. "I must have made a good impression," recounts Rosen, "because he let me see several works during our first meeting." Over the years a relationship developed, as Rosen shared a meal "and often a fine bottle of Burgundy" with the connoisseur. He would be shown one or two more pieces, or, as Rosen recalls, "sometimes he wouldn't show me any, just to increase my curiosity." During the next two decades Rosen, who has since become a private art dealer, continued his relationship with the collector and developed a rapport with his family. When they felt the time was right, his heirs asked Rosen and his partner Susan Pinsky (who succeeded him as head of the Print department at Sotheby’s) to arrange a sale in the United States.
Set of Ten Of the more than 200 works, the stars are the large, exquisitely colored aquatints, especially those that are part of Cassatt's landmark "Set of Ten." In 1891 Cassatt finished this series that many consider to be her masterpiece. These aquatints are a tour de force, depicting her favorite themes: Mothers with children, and bourgeois ladies going about their day. She printed only twenty-five "sets," all of which she individually hand-colored on the copper plates before printing. The collection that will be sold in November includes "states" (experimental versions of an image with different colors, textures and lines) and final "proofs," offering remarkable insight into the steps Cassatt took to create these masterworks. There are colors that were previously unknown, textures that were ultimately removed or increased, experiments with tonal balance -- even the addition, then wise removal, of a dog sitting in the folds of a woman's skirt!
Rare early states for The Fitting show how Cassatt tinkered with composition. Once satisfied with the "drawing," she experimented freely with colors on the two dresses, background and hair, even trying a vibrant, cerulean blue for the wallpaper. (A muted goldenrod was selected for the published version.) Susan Pinsky explains, "The Bath was first in the 'set' and is the image for which we have the most states. Here Cassatt was still developing the technique that would allow both subtle lines and textures and hold deeply saturated colors, so it makes sense that there was more trial-and-error." In the Omnibus features a glowing pink for one of the gowns that is much richer than in the published edition.
Other Works The collection is not limited to images from the "Set of Ten." There are multiple states from other famous images, such as Gathering Fruit, which is related to her lost mural for the Woman’s Pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. In The Banjo Lesson Cassatt dabbed paint freely on unbitten areas of the plate, printing it as a monotype. There is a luscious proof of Feeding the Ducks, which was one of her most "impressionistic" prints. Mark Rosen notes, "aside from the 'Set of Ten' and a handful of other subjects, most of her prints were printed in only a few proofs, so finding this ‘buried treasure’ is a huge boon to the Cassatt collector.
Impact On the Art Market
The scholarly spotlight has shone brightly on Cassatt over the last 20 years, and recent museum exhibitions have encouraged a renewed study of what was thought to be a well-known, thoroughly documented body of work. According to Jay Cantor, Director of the committee that is compiling the Cassatt catalogue raisonne* (a comprehensive listing of an artist's works) "The magnitude of this collection is simply tremendous, in both the quantity of works and their quality, which is breathtaking."
Warren Adelson of Adelson Galleries, one of the two venues (along with Meredith Long & Company in Houston) where the sale exhibition will take place this November -December, explains, "The Impressionist market has been very healthy for some time, so it is rare when a work by a major artist is 'discovered.' But to find over 200 works, all previously unknown, all in impeccable condition -- it's just unprecedented, a once-in-a-lifetime event." Adelson Galleries, who is sponsoring the sale, are considered the foremost experts in American Impressionist paintings, and are also compiling a catalogue raisonn* on John Singer Sargent.
Marc Rosen offers another perspective: "Mary Cassatt was not prolific in the number of prints she published, and even among these her editions were relatively small. Only a handful of works come up for auction each year, and among these the predations of time and poor care are often conspicuous, so the hunger for quality pieces, among both institutions and private collectors, simply cannot be satisfied. We expect the sale of these works, especially given their high quality, historic importance and impeccable condition, will increase demand, because more people will be able to collect Cassatt."
Facts and Figures
Number of works: 204 total: 41 color prints; 132 black/white prints; 31 drawings.
Size: Most of the color prints (and many of the black/white prints) are approximately 13 x 17 inches.
Price Range: Prices will range from under $5,000 for some of the prints and drawings to over $500,000 for the major color works.
Sale Dates: The sale exhibitions will be presented by Marc Rosen Fine Art, Ltd. simultaneously at Adelson Galleries in New York City and Meredith Long & Company in Houston from Friday, November 10th through Friday, December 29th, 2000:
The Mark Hotel
25 East 77th Street, 3rd floor
New York, NY 10021
Meredith Long & Company
2323 San Felipe Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Catalogue: A 148 page, full-color, fully illustrated exhibition catalogue published by Princeton University Press will be available to the public for $35. Along with all 204 works, which were catalogued by Marc Rosen and Susan Pinsky, the catalogue will feature a forward by Barbara Stern Shapiro, Associate Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a leading expert on Mary Cassatt, and essays by Warren Adelson and Jay Cantor, chairman of the committee that is currently compiling the catalogue raisonn* of Cassatt's drawings.
Cassatt bioraphical information: Born 1844 in Allegheny City, Pa, the second surviving daughter of five children, died 1926 in France, where she had lived since the age of 30. Joined the Impressionist movement in 1877, at the invitation of Degas.
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Adelson Galleries, Inc.