|Cassatt – self portrait|
I have always loved Paris (ever since second grade when I first started taking French), but I have not always enjoyed the Impressionists. In fact, I had little appreciation for fine art until six years ago.
I say that to say this… I do not feign to be an expert in the field.
So why the focus on Impressionism and the artists of Montmartre? Perhaps a little backstory is in order.
Six years ago I decided to write a novel. I was teaching a creative writing class where students had to write a 12-chapter novel in nine months, and I didn’t want to ask them to do something I was not willing to try myself.
No matter how much brainstorming, pulling of hair or gnashing of teeth, I could not think of a viable idea. I was about to give up.
Then one day a fleeting image passed through my mind: while looking at a museum painting, a young girl closes her eyes to imagine herself in the scene, and when she opens her eyes she is in Paris at the Garnier Opera house dancing with the Degas ballerinas.
This one notion of an idea led to four years of research, one rough draft, and now a major revision. Yes, I am a little obsessed with the time period.
|The Child’s Bath|
Mary Cassatt became a focus for a variety of reasons.
First of all, she was an American artist living in France. I liked the idea that my American protagonist could have someone she could turn to as a mentor who also spoke English.
Secondly, Cassatt and Degas were very good friends. I’m not sure there was any kind of romantic feelings between the two, but they both were serious artists who considered painting their life partner.
Thirdly, Cassatt was a woman slightly ahead of her time. She knew her mind, she knew her passion, and she was not afraid to compete in a male-dominated world. When she told her father she planned to travel to Paris to pursue an art career, he responded that he would almost rather his daughter were dead. Eventually he came around to understand her talent and respect her decision.
|Girl in Blue Chair|
While Cassatt never married nor had children of her own, she is known for capturing the close, affectionate maternal bond in her paintings: a young child sitting on his mother’s lap – or snuggled with a warm towel after a bath.
She also enjoyed painting pictures of her own family members, particularly her nieces, nephews, and especially her older sister, Lydia.
I particularly enjoy this painting of the girl sprawled on the overstuffed chair, hot and tired from perhaps playing outside with the little dog. In fact, this is the painting that inspires my latest draft of a Middle Grade novel.