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Channeling Cassatt


At the Window by Mary Cassatt, circa 1889



For this year's Fakes and Forgeries Show I did a copy of Mary Cassatt's At the Window. I am not a huge fan of Cassatt, but came across this painting, which is one of her many works that owes a lot to Degas. I decided to try it instead of doing another Degas.


I was a little late getting started so scrounged around for a large piece of paper, and found a 21x28 sheet of UArt 320--not the paper I might have selected, but so be it, and proportionally worked (the original is a bit larger). Because I didn't have a lot of time, I couldn't do a study or plan the painting out, so just started in with a freehand drawing and quick block-in:



The proportions of the baby were a little off, and I knew it, but plowed ahead--no time!--and struggled with the baby's body the entire time. Sigh. Here is the underpainting--I can see already that I am going to have to be mindful of getting my background to a darker value--and the first layer, where I started testing colors and trying to get the baby's head a little bigger--babies' heads are big!--and the mother's head a little smaller and more carved out.


I start working on the skin tones, getting some background in, and working on the mother's dress, correcting some of her proportions. She is a pretty strapping girl. I am careful to keep Cassatt's visible scribbling.


I work more on the skin tones, the curtain, the hair and baby's necklace, and the background, which I keep wanting to be darker in some places, lighter in others. As I do, I start losing the mother's profile, which I thought was looking pretty good, as I work the background around her face. Aarghh!!



I fool around with it until I run out of time, softening a few things, sharpening a few things, doing the best I can with the values and--the real goal--trying to capture the spirit of the Cassatt painting, even if it is not a perfect copy. Here too is the palette: lotsa blues!



Here is the submitted painting, and a pic of it hanging in my stairwell--with last year's Degas painting below it. I came to really enjoy how Cassatt's drawing, and redrawing, are part of the picture, and how the mother's and child's heads merge into one--and though you don't really see them from the front, they both look happy and content. I like how the baby sort of glows, and the mother, except for her face, is almost part of the background. I think I did a really good job of forging Cassatt's signature (ha; not to worry, it's clearly marked on the back as a copy by me after Cassatt, and who wouldn't be able to tell it was fake anyway). Aside from the actual drawing--which I should have spent more time on from the start--the background was the most difficult thing. Ain't that always the case?



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