MARY STEVENSON CASSATT (1844–1926)
The Fitting, 1890–91
Drypoint and aquatint, printed in colors, inked à la poupée, on laid paper, 14 3/4 x 9 7/8 in.
Signed (at lower left): M. C [artist's monogram]
Edition 25. Seventh and final state.
RECORDED: cf. Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Graphic Work (1979), p. 63 no. 147, p. 144 illus. in color // cf. Nancy Mowll Mathews and Barbara Stern Shapiro, Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints, exhib. cat. (Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College Museum of Art, 1989–90), p. 43, pp. 125–31 no. 9 illus. in color
A dedicated printmaker, Mary Cassatt produced more than two hundred aquatints, etchings, drypoints, and lithographs over a period of thirty years. The Fitting is part of a series of ten color prints that she executed, with the help of M. LeRoy, a professional printer, in 1890–91. Although Cassatt frequently based prints on her earlier paintings and pastels, the ten color prints are remarkable not only for their original compositions but also for their appropriation of Japanese printmaking styles. The making of these prints was extremely labor intensive, as it relied on a combination of a number of printmaking techniques, including drypoint, etching, and aquatint. In her catalogue raisonné of Cassatt’s graphic work, Adelyn Breeskin notes: "These prints were her next great triumph and one which would give her claim to fame if they were her sole accomplishment. They are indeed her most original contribution, adding a new chapter to the history of the graphic arts and, as color prints, have never since been surpassed" (Breeskin, p. 21).
Moreover, Breeskin notes that this suite of prints was especially novel not only because of their japonisme, but because she gave the models themselves Japanese features. Nancy Mowll Mathews and Barbara Stern Shapiro further note that: "These ten prints provide us with a more complete glimpse of "daily life" as Cassatt would see it than anywhere else in her art. While "daily life" had been her subject since the late 1870's ... in this cycle she was forced to round out the survey with subjects she had never before attempted. In The Omnibus, The Letter, and The Fitting ... are all without parallel in Cassatt's work. The topics that Cassatt chose to explore just for this series of prints are ones that offer a wider view of a woman's life in Paris and deal implicitly with issues not seen elsewhere. Juxtaposition of classes, for instance is seen … in seamstress and customer from The Fitting. While Cassatt shared the upper-class belief in an orderly society in which servitude is necessary, she also respected hard work and craftsmanship wherever it occurred. Her dignified depiction of the seamstress blurs obvious class distinctions and may reflect Cassatt's own interest in and respect for that profession (Mathews & Shapiro, p. 43).
Though The Fitting and the other color prints Cassatt executed concurrently were revolutionary in Western art, they failed to receive correspondingly strong critical acclaim. These prints were shown, along with works by her friend Camille Pissarro, in 1891 at Durand-Ruel in Paris, and again at Durand-Ruel’s New York gallery later that year. Neither show was successful, as very few of the prints were sold. Despite these setbacks, Cassatt remained encouraged by the support of a few friends, critics, and collectors. Cassatt produced several additional color prints of advanced technique over the next few years. Today, they are considered among the finest prints in American art, a fitting tribute to Cassatt’s radical approach and determination.
Accomplished in a mere seven plates, The Fitting demonstrates Cassatt’s growing mastery of the aquatint technique; in some instances, earlier prints in her series of color aquatints required as many as seventeen states In this, the final state, Cassatt's unique inking of the plates for each impression in a painterly fashion belies the technical complexity of the process. The composition illustrates Cassatt's ability to create sophisticated interplays of pattern, evidenced here by the complex foliate designs of the wall and floor coverings, the varied stripe repeats of the dress fabric of the two women, and the customer's actual and reflected self. Cassatt further captures a juxtaposition of mood and manner: as the customer stands in a self conscious pose, the kneeling fitter appears as an absorbed and steady presence. The resulting print is both dynamic and thought-provoking, a widely-acknowledged masterpiece in American printmaking.
Fifteen impressions from the edition of 25 reside in the collections of museums, among them The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.