Eileen Mayo – Painter, Printmaker and Designer

While visiting the Christchurch gallery in New Zealand earlier this year, I came across a wonderful exhibition of the work of Eileen Mayo (1909 – 1994). 

Even though she lived  in Australia from the early 1950s until the early 1960’s, I didn’t know much about her. The work in the exhibition consisted mainly of prints and postage stamps, and it wasn’t until I did some further research that I discovered what a diverse artist Mayo was.

Eileen Mayo, Lobster Pot, Tempera on Board, early 1940s

She worked in almost every medium available to her during her career – oil painting (including murals), tempura, prints (including lithographs, linocuts, wood engraving and silkscreens). She was also an author of several nature books and had an interest in calligraphy.

As well, Mayo executed a number of designs for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes.

She was particularly highly regarded for her book illustrations,  as well as poster, postage stamp, book plate, diorama, tapestry and coin design.

Earlier in her career May also worked as a model to some of the best-known British artists of the day, including Laura Knight, Dod Proctor, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. (It was through Knight that she received her first major commission, which started her very successful career as an illustrator.)

Mayo actively demonstrated the Arts and Crafts movement’s belief that applied arts was of the same value as fine arts  – largely as an outcome of her training at the Slade School of Fine Arts at the University of London andat the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London (where she studied lithography, calligraphy and wood engraving).  Like other artists of the time her aim was to bring her talents into people’s home and workplaces and to make a living doing so.

She described an artist as ” … a work[er] who designs and/or makes things of our ordinary lives as beautiful as they can be“.[i] She argued that any division between ‘fine’ art and other art forms was illusory.

Equally, Mayo believed that painting was a craft to be mastered. In her review of M. Maroger’s, The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters (1949), she wrote, “We are so obsessed with the idea of painting being an ART that we forget, or even deliberately deny, that of its very nature (since it is not abstract but concrete) it is also a craft[ii].

 

A legacy  from her study at the Slade was a pictorial logic to her work based on the geometry of Piero della Francesca and the linear draughtsmanship of  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.


According to biographer Jillian Cassidy, as a child Mayo was pre-occupied with drawing from nature, and had “anxious perfectionism and a predilection for making every task as difficult as possible in order to prove both her personal integrity as well as her artistic worth both to herself and to those around her[iii].

This focus on perfectionism remained with her throughout her career and as she took on new media, she went to great lengths to study her craft. For example, she was famously instructed by Claude Flight over the telephone on how to make a linocut.

In the 1930s she studied at Chelsea Polytechnic with Robert Medley, Henry Moore and Harold James, as well as studying lithography at Horsham School of Art with Vincent Lines.  In the 1940s Mayo travelled to France where she undertook a study of the historic tapestries at Cluny and Angers and studied tapestry design at the Tabard Ateliers at Aubusson.  She was taught the art of tapestry designing at St Céré by Jean Lurcat, the master of contemporary tapestry design.

Mayo also attended life drawing classes in France with Fernard Legér[iv].

Mayo also applied her perfectionism to her oil painting. She stated “I am especially concerned about the texture of paint. I like to think that if a small piece were removed from any part of a picture it would be interesting in itself“.[v]

Eileen Mayo, Still Life with a Painting of the Dancer Karsavina, c1920

(However, she was later to identify that painting was not her greatest strength.)

From the late in 1920s her work began to be commissioned for book illustrations and she produced linocuts, lithographs and wood engravings.

In the mid 1930s Mayo travelled by cargo ship to Durban, South Africa, where she made numerous drawings of the Zulu people as well as the  local fauna and flora, which she developed into paintings and prints on her return to England.

She produced her first book, commissioned by Waverly Book Company, in 1944, The Story of Living Things and their Evolution. It contained 300 pages of text and over 1,000 illustrations. Shells and How They Live was published the same year.

In 1945 Mayo wrote and illustrated two more books: Little Animals of the Countryside and Larger Animals of the Countryside, amongst others produced during her career.

Also in 1945 she exhibited her work for the first time at the Royal Academy. It was a lithograph titled Squirrel.

Eileen Mayo, The Squirrel, c1932, National Gallery of Victoria

By 1950 her prints were being more widely exhibited, including at Victoria and Albert Museum and at the Leicester Galleries. (The Victoria and Albert Museum currently holds 89 of her works in their collection.)

It was at this time that she began teaching lithography and illustration at Sir John Cass College and drawing at St Martin’s School of Art, and exhibiting at the Society of Women Artists at the Royal Institute Gallery and with the Royal British Artists.

In 1951, her tapestry Echinoderms was among three contemporary works selected for the exhibition English Tapestries shown during the Festival of Britain.

It was against this background, with her marriage over, that Mayo left England for Australia in 1952.


Eileen Mayo in Australia

Mayo arrived in Sydney suffering from depression and feeling guilty about the breakdown of her marriage.  She had made the move because her youngest sister was already living in Sydney, as were her friends Carol and George Foote.

With her substantial background in printmaking in particular, Mayo made a significant contribution to art in Australia, particularly as printmaking was enjoying a resurgence in interest during the 1960s.

She very quickly became friendly with Hal Missingham  (also a printmaker) who was the Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Elizabeth Pope from the Australian Museum, Douglas and Dorothy Dundas from the Australian Art School as well as Sir Daryl Lindsay (Director) and Dr Ursula Hoff (Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings) from the National Gallery of Victoria.

She exhibited in galleries across Australia and her prints were received with acclaim – only a year after her arrival she won the Albany Prize for printmaking  and her Woman and Siamese Cat (1952) won the Ku ring gai prize for prints in 1960. Her print Pumpkin won a prize in Adelaide in 1962. One major difficulty she faced in producing lithographs in Sydney at that time was the limited number of lithographic presses.

Mayo’s major focus while she lived in Australia was on earning a living through teaching (at East Sydney Technical College) and design commissions.

Overseas tourist travel during the war was almost nonexistent, but by the 1950s it was again becoming popular, and the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) was commissioning innovative posters to promote tourism.

Three of Mayo’s poster designs were included in the 1955-57 edition of Modern Publicity which was a worldwide advertising journal. These designs were Discover Australia, Cockatoo and Banksia, and Koalas. Her Desert Pea design appeared in the 1958-59 edition and Great Barrier Reef in the subsequent edition. (Mayo wasn’t a newcomer to postermaking, having designed them since the 1930s.)

In 1957 she submitted several stamp designs to the Stamp Advisory Committee of the Postmaster General’s Department, in Melbourne. Although they weren’t considered to be suitable she was commissioned (at the suggestion of Daryl Lindsay) to prepare six possible stamps, each depicting an Australian animal  (such as the kangaroo, koala, opossum, Tasmanian tiger, banded anteater and bandicoot) which could be engraved for recess printing.

As with any work she undertook, she undertook thorough research. “My sources of information are whatever I can get and wherever I can find them.[vi]” This included museum specimens, photographs, colour slides, book illustrations and a visit to Taronga Park Zoo.

Although biologically correct, Mayo’s stamps were stylised decorative drawings, rather than photographic representations of the animals.  She considered that  ” … their design [should be] striking, simple and up to date without being gimmicky, which makes them old fashioned in a year or two[vii]“.



Such was the success of her designs, six Animals stamps were issued between 1959 and 1962, and Stamp Collecting Annual (UK) selected three Mayo designed stamps for the world’s top ten stamps of the year during three consecutive years[viii].

In 1964 when the French Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications invited the Australian Post Office to participate in an International Philatelic Exhibition in Paris, the Australian Post-Master General extended an invitation to Mayo to represent the country at the exhibition. “In view of your recent work for this Department, I would therefore like to offer you the opportunity of participating in this International Exhibition”. [ix]

From the late 1950s Mayo undertook mural painting commissions, including the Tree of the Invertebrates (which consisted of fifty-five panels) for the Australian Museum, Sydney in 1959 and a mural for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in 1961.

The Invertebrate Tree was organised to commemorate the centenary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species. Measuring nine metres by two metres, over 20 people completed the mural over a period of 19 months. Mayo’s contribution consisted of 55 paintings of scientifically accurate enlargements of animals (such as insects, spiders, snails, jellyfish, scorpions, seashells, sea urchins and anemones) normally too small to be seen by the naked eye.

Unfortunately this mural no longer exists.

Her work for the CSIRO was for the main foyer for the building, however, as it was still under construction, Mayo executed the work in synthetic resin “applied by an old kitchen knife and a fine sable brush on panels of marine ply wood in her garage at Neutral Bay[x].

According to her great niece, the CSIRO mural did survive. “When the old CSIRO building was demolished, they were able to relocate it to their new one, as the mural had been painted on large boards (in Eileen’s garage in Neutral Bay)[xi] .

Mayo also had a number of smaller commissions. She worked for the Display Department at David Jones, between August 1953 and April 1954. Her diaries record the designing of advertisements for knitting machines, sun tan lotions and promotions for ‘Lower Ground Floor Bargains’. She also painted panels of birds and animals for a window display.

Another commission was to work on colour combinations for Claudio Alcorso of Silks and Textiles Printers Pty Ltd in Hobart in 1957. Mayo’s role  was to make colourways for the designs produced by the various artists, often five or six of them to preserve the tone values. Although offered a full time position, she was just beginning to establish good design contacts in Sydney and there was also the prospect of full-time teaching at the East Sydney Technical College.

Mayo also designed the decoration for a dinner set for the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Board Room in Melbourne. Although the Board appear to have approved her wild flower motif drawn between narrow brown bands, the dinner set was not produced.

Mayo moved to New Zealand to be with her mother and sister Margery in 1962, and she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1994 New Year Honours one week before her death at the age of 87.


Eileen Mayo was driven not only by a sense of perfectionism, but also one of self doubt, during her long and successful career.

She was an artist who fully believed that fine art and arts and crafts were of the same value, and also believed in the importance of indepth study to develop technique. This meant that she placed no limitations on her art practices.

She amply demonstrated her abilities across a range of media, particularly in design, illustrations, various forms of printmaking and tempera painting.

I’m so pleased to have visited Christchurch gallery and discovered this wonderful artist, and the contribution she made to art in Australia, as well in New Zealand and the UK.


[i] Barbara R. Mueller, “The Stamp of the Artist,” Western Stamp Collector, 21 July, 1962, p 3.

[ii] Art News & Review, Vol. I, no. 6, 1947, p. 7.

[iii] Margaret Jillian Cassidy, SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: THE ART OF EILEEN MAYO, 2000. p23-24

[iv] ibid, p12.

[v] Jillian Cassidy, Eileen Mayo, Her Prints, Posters and Postage Stamps, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 24, No1 p 17-22

[vi] Correspondence, Mayo to Mueller, 15 August I 961

[vii] Correspondence, Mayo to Gil Docking, Director of the City of Auckland Art Gallery, 28 April 1965.

[viii] https://shop.auspost.com.au/INTERSHOP/static/WFS/AusPost-Shop-Site/-/AusPost-Shop/en_AU/assets/document/1292363962-bulletin308_high.pdf

[ix] Correspondence, Australian Postmaster General to Mayo, 1964

[x] Cassidy, Shifting Boundaries, p 162

[xi] Lucie Stanford, great niece of Eileen Mayo


Sources

Jillian Cassidy, SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: THE ART OF EILEEN MAYO, 2000

Jillian Cassidy, Eileen Mayo, Her Prints, Posters and Postage Stamps, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 24,

Design and Art Australia online

Independent Obituary: Dame Eileen Mayo, JOHN GAINSBOROUGH, Wednesday 5 January 1994

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Victoria and Albert Museum

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Australia Post

Lucie Stanford, great niece of Eileen Mayo

Käthe Kollwitz – Expressionist Printer and Sculptor

Kathe Kollowitz, Self Portrait with hand against cheek, 1906Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was one of the most prolific – and political – graphic artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Raised in a politically progressive middle-class family who supported her artistic ambitions, she was keenly interested in the conditions of the poor and the working class.

She studied art in both Munich and Berlin before marrying Dr Karl Kollwitz in 1891, who opened a clinic in Prenzlauer Berg, one of the poorest parts of Berlin.

Though she had studied both painting and printmaking, she turned almost exclusively to printing etchings, lithography and woodcuts in the early 1890s.  Influenced by fellow German artist Max Klinger, she saw the potential of  prints for social commentary as they could be reproduced in large numbers inexpensively, giving her work a wider audience. She often mixed her printing techniques to achieve a desired image, and increasingly simplified her visual language over time. Even though the majority of her prints were black and white, a significant number of them also reveal her interest in colour.

In 1898, she gained early recognition with the publication A Weavers’ Uprising  which consisted of six works on paper based on Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers. The play recounted the dramatic failure of the Silesian Weavers strike of 1844 and she began working on this series inspired by their rebellion, choosing to highlight its most dramatic moments and  infusing the harsh reality of the weavers’ story with symbolic meaning.

She gained early recognition through this series, although she was refused a a gold medal in the official Great Berlin Art Exhibition at the Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin in 1898, as it was judged by  Emperor Wilhelm II’s judgment to  “gutter art.” He is reported as saying “Orders and symbols of honor belong to the chest of deserved men1.

The success of the series, however, led to her appointment to teach at the Berlin School of Arts for Women.   (She later became the first woman elected and appointed professor to the Prussian Arts Academy in 1919 and subsequently co-founded and became director of the Women’s Art Association, an organisation dedicated to exhibiting women’s art.)

Kollowitz  also produced several other key print series (cycles) including Peasant War (1902–08), War (Krieg) Cycle (1921–22) and  Death Series, 1934.

She was an intensely passionate individual, in personal relationships and politics, an artist who pushed hard in the direction of equality for women in all walks of life. Her emphasis was often on what was distinctive about women’s experience, including the fundamental nature and potency of maternal love.  She undertook a number of projects that addressed challenging women’s issues, including abortion rights, alcoholism and domestic abuse, labour rights for women, and even breastmilk sharing.

Initially, her husband’s working-class patients were her models and subjects.

A number of Kollwitz’s works portray the mother-child relationship, which was often cut short in Germany’s impoverished working-class neighbourhoods, where child-mortality rates were high.

Much of her subject matter was drawn from both World Wars. In 1919 she commenced  a series of woodcuts expressing her response to WWI. In The Sacrifice a new mother offers up her infant as a sacrifice to the cause. In The Widow II a woman and her baby lie in a heap, perhaps dead from starvation. Volunteers is the only print to show combatants. In it, Kollwitz’s son Peter takes his place next to Death, who leads a band of young men in an ecstatic procession off to war.

Peter had been killed in action two months after joining the military, in 1914, a loss from which Kollwitz never fully recovered. She also lost a grandson in WWII.

Two months after the death of her son,  Kollwitz decided to create a personal memorial for him. But, as she explained in her diary, she also wished to impart a greater and more universal importance to his death: “I want to honor the death of all you young war volunteers through your [Peter’s] embodiment. In iron or bronze will it be cast and remain for centuries.”2. 

Kathe Kollowitz, sculpture.PNG

Never completely satisfied with the result, it took her until 1931 to complete the sculptures titled The Grieving Parents. The life-sized sculptures of Käthe and her husband Karl in mourning – each owning their  own grief – grace the edge of the Vladslow cemetery in Dixmuiden Belgium. Their son is buried among thousands of fellow soldiers, close to the place where they fell during the war.

During her final years, Kollwitz produced bronze and stone sculpture embodying the same types of subjects and aesthetic values as her prints.

In 1933, the Nazi government forced Kollwitz to resign her position as professor at the Prussian Academy and soon after she was forbidden to exhibit her art.

Much of her art was destroyed in a Berlin air raid in 1943. After her home was destroyed by bombing, she was evacuated to Moritzburg, a town just outside Dresden, where she died two years later, in April 1945, just a few days before the end of the war.

When I was drawing I cried along with the fearful children, I felt the burden I was carrying. I felt that I could not withdraw from the task to be an advocate. I shall speak up about the suffering of people, which never ends, and which is mountainous. I have the task but it is not easy to fulfill. One says that one’s load is lightened by taking on this task, but does it offer relief when people still daily die of hunger in Vienna despite my posters? When I am aware of this? Did I feel relief when I was drawing the War series and knew that the war continues? Certainly not. Tranquility and relief have only come to me when I was working on one thing: Peter’s great work. There I had peace and was with him.” Kollwitz

1. Kito Nedo, July 18, 2017

2. Smith College of Museum and Art.

3. ibid

Primary sources: MoMA; Smith College of Museum and Art.

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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Jeanne Jacquemin – Symbolist artist and writer

jeanne-jacquemin-photoc-1893

Jeanne Jacquemin, c 1893

Jeanne Jacquemin (Marie-Jeanne Coffineau)  was born in Paris in 1863 to Marie Emélie Boyer and was adopted by Lord Juliette Boyer and Louise Coffineau in 1874. However, details of her upbringing are sketchy and conflicting, and it isn’t known what formal training she may have had in drawing, painting or print making.

In 1881 she married a naturalist illustrator (who was also an alcoholic), Edouard Jacquemin.  After they separated Jeanne lived with engraver Auguste-Marie Lauzet in Sévres on the outskirts of Paris, from about 1893. Through both Jacquemin and Lauzet she met a number of artists (including Puvis de Chavannes) and poets and developed an interest in Symbolism and the occult.

She first became known as a writer, when from June 1890 onwards she wrote commentaries on a number of writers and painters of the time for Art et Critique – she was particularly interested in Symbolist and Decadent literature. Many of the themes and images that she referenced in her writing appeared later in her own pastels.  (Approximately 40 of the works that she exhibited during her lifetime were pastels, and unfortunately few remain.)

Like many other Symbolists, Jacquemin saw a close correlation between literature, music and the visual arts. She responded to the poetic and mystic delights of the texts in her commentaries, saying that “her ear keeps the music of poems long after the reading“. She also wrote that “I see images [from the poems] mount before my eyes” and that she wanted to “try to fix some of her visions“.

From 1892,  with other Symbolists and Post Impressionists, she participated in a series of Peintres Impressionnistes et Symbolistes exhibitions, which were held between 1891 and 1897.

The catalogues of these exhibitions show that Jacquemin was both well represented and well received by some of the most significant critics of the time. Rémy de Gourmont from the Mercure de France wrote that her “overall effect produces something that is full of the new” with traces of “dreaminess” in blue-green luminosities” and impressions of “androgynous figures left to float like the unhealthy, yet adorable haze of desire around those heads so infinitely tired of living“.

Gourmet compares the dreaminess in her work to fellow Symbolists Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and her work is similar in style to  Puvis de Chavannes. There is also an echo of Paul Gauguin in some of her works.

Most of her paintings can be easily identified by the sad figures – usually waif-like or gaunt women in anguished or dreamlike states – which appear to haunt her paintings. She mostly used subdued tones in her pastels which adds to their subtlety .

Daydream (or Reverie), above left,  appears to be typical of her work, with a solitary, somewhat melancholic or pensive, figure set in front of a landscape. Blues and purples feature in the background, as do the  strawberry blonde hair and blue-green eyes, which are thought to be similar to the artist’s own features. Does the use of the garland of flowers suggest a Christ like quality? It was not unusual for her male Symbolist counterparts to explore the theme of the self as Christ, and Jacquemin may have also chosen to do so. The second image above ( La Douloureuse et Glorieuse Couronne) is certainly suggestive of this motif, with the crown of thorns and eyes raised to the heavens.

 

One critic, writer and poet Jean Lorrain, was particularly taken by Jacquemin’s art, that he felt might be used to mirror his own interests, which also included the occult. As a result, they collaborated on a short story, Conte de Noel. Written by Lorrain and accompanied by five lithographs by Jacquemin, it was published in 1894. Lorrain’s support for her during the 1890s may assisted in her public recognition. For example, in 1893, she was invited to represent France in the tenth Les XX exhibition in Brussels, where she showed five works. Unfortunately, the close relationship between the two deteriorated and her reputation suffered as a result.

As well as her paintings, Jacquemin also produced a number of charcoal drawings and prints (lithographs) which were not as widely exhibited.

Jeanne Jacquemin, Saint Georges, 1898
Jeanne Jacquemin, Saint Georges, 1898

Perhaps the best known is a colour lithograph, Saint Georges, c 1898, which appeared in L’Estampe Modern that year. The description of print in the magazine read,

This print represents the young and valiant knight of Cappadocia, sweet as a virgin but strong as a lion, who is described in the Golden Legend as fighting and killing the dragon who was preparing to devour the daughter of the King of Libya. Thus, this heroic character inspired the traditions of many peoples, and since the time of the Crusades he has been known as the patron saint of the armies”.

 

It has been said that many of her works are self portraits, and there is certainly a similarity in the facial structure in a several of the paintings and prints shown on this page. Even the Saint Georges lithograph appears, if not female, at least androgynous.

Not a great deal is known about Jeanne Jacquemin or her work from the late 1890’s onwards. After nursing Lauzet until his death in 1898, she married Lucien Pautrier, and perhaps she chose to no longer exhibit, or it may have been the acrimony between herself and Lorrain (including a very public law suit) and the death of Lauzet which resulted in her being hospitalised for a short time that led to her being less interested in art. She divorced Pautrier in 1921, and married occultist Paul Sédir later in the same year, suggesting that she maintained her interest in the occult throughout her life time.

Jacquemin is thought to have died in 1938.

Primary Source: Jeanne Jacquemin: A French Symbolist, Leslie Stewart Curtis, Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Autumn, 2000 – Winter, 2001), pp. 1+27-35

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Impressionism – Mary Cassatt; Painter and and Printmaker

Mary Cassatt, Self Portrait, 1878
Mary Cassatt, Self Portrait, 1878

Known for her perceptive depictions of women and children, Mary Cassatt was one of the few American artists in France in the 1800s. She began to show regularly at the Paris Salon in 1868 – with her first work exhibited being a Realist work, The Mandolin Player.

After several tours to Europe, she settled permanently in Paris In 1874. As women weren’t then accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it is believed that she studied privately with Jean-Leon Gerome, a teacher from the school. Cassatt also attended classes by Charles Chaplin and Thomas Couture and, like Berthe Morisot, she also regularly copied masters at the Louvre.

In 1875 she saw the pastel work of Edgar Degas in a gallery window. Years later, Cassatt described the importance of this experience, “I used to go and flatten my nose against the window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it.” She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognised master at the time.

In 1877, Degas invited her to join the Impressionists and a close working relationship developed between them. From similar upper-class backgrounds, the two painters enjoyed a friendship based on common artistic sensibilities and interests in bold compositional structure, the asymmetry and high vantage point of Japanese prints, and contemporary subject matter. Their admiration and support for each other endured long after their art began to head in different directions.

Cassatt exhibited in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions; in 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. During this period she revised her technique, composition, and use of colour and light from the earlier and darker Realist works.

In April 1890, an exhibition of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris inspired Cassatt to begin experimenting with different print techniques. However, she blended the Japanese design with that of the Impressionists. Impressionists didn’t use black so she used light pastel colours instead. (Some art historians believe her blending of the two styles made a lasting contribution to the graphic arts.)

Also, she chose not to employ the woodblock process, instead using aquatint, drypoint, etching, and hand-colouring. She made bold compositional choices—flattening forms and perspective, cropping compositions, contrasting decorative patterns and introducing broad planes of colour. Between 1890-91 she executed a series of ten prints that explored the private activities of women. After painstakingly overseeing the execution of each print, Cassatt exhibited the resulting series at the Durand Ruel Gallery in Paris. Together, the prints combined the spare beauty of Japanese woodcut designs with innovative colour patterns and finely tuned drawing.

The Bath was Cassatt’s first effort in the series, and the only one, according to her, in which she truly tried to imitate Japanese design. She produced seventeen different states for The Bath, more than for any other print in the series. Here she was still mastering the technical difficulties of translating woodcuts into intaglio prints. In The Bath, colour is used very simply for the blue tub, the yellow in woman’s dress and the soft background.

The subject, a mother and child, is a favourite of Cassatt’s, and in the series as a whole, she opens a window on women’s private lives in the nineteenth century.

Mary Cassatt, who chose her independence and a painting career over being married and having a family, continued painting until 1915, when she became virtually blind. As an independently wealthy woman, she acquired a number of artworks from her fellow artists and either donated or bequeathed these to American art museums, where her work was highly regarded.

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program http://www.modernartappreciation.com