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1 / Converging Cultures

The Fitting
The Fitting
Artist / Origin Mary Cassatt (American, 1844–1926)
Region: Europe
Date 1890–91
Material Drypoint and aquatint etching on off-white, moderately thick, moderately textured laid paper
Dimensions (Image) H: 14 13/16 in. (37.6 cm.), W: 10 1/8 in. (25.7 cm.); (Sheet) H: 17 ¼ in. (43.8 cm.), W: 12 in. (30.5 cm.)
Location Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York
Credit Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

expert perspective

Karen SherryAssistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum

Additional Resources

“Japonisme in American Graphic Art, 1880–1920. (April 16–October 12, 2008).” In Exhibitions. Brooklyn Museum Web site. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions.

Lambourne, Lionel. Japonisme: Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West. London: Phaidon, 2007.

Pollock, Griselda. Mary Cassatt. London: Chaucer Press, 2005.

Stanley-Baker, Joan. Japanese Art, rev. and expanded ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Sullivan, Michael. The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art, rev. ed, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.

Wichmann, Siegfried. Japonisme: The Japanese Influence on Western Art Since 1858. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

The Fitting

» Mary Cassatt (American, 1844–1926)

In The Fitting, Impressionist artist and American expatriate Mary Cassatt offers viewers a scene of everyday life in nineteenth-century Paris that speaks not only to gender roles, but also to class divisions.

Crouching on the floor with her back to the viewer, a dark-haired seamstress concentrates on adjusting the hem of her young client’s skirt. With her face and hands hidden, she is virtually anonymous. Conversely, through the clever employment of a mirror, Cassatt presents the client from two views simultaneously.

The artist’s use of predominantly warm brown and ochre tones produces a monochromatic effect in The Fitting. It is not color so much as line and pattern that drive this composition. The central axis created by the positioning of the two figures is reinforced by the client’s downward glance and the vertical stripes on the dresses of both women. Another axis formed by the wall’s baseboard cuts diagonally across the lower third of the image, dividing the scene into quadrants. Cassatt fills the sections with decorative floral designs. Despite some indications of three-dimensional space and volume, the image tends toward the flat and decorative, qualities commonly found in European art influenced by Japanese aesthetics.

For over two hundred years, Japan had held firm to an isolationist policy that restricted trade with the outside world, thus limiting familiarity with Japanese culture in the West. In 1853, U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry led a fleet of ships to Edo Bay demanding that the Japanese open up their doors to diplomatic relations and trade or else risk military intervention. In doing so, he inadvertently inaugurated a period of European and American fascination with Japanese visual arts that would impact everything from architecture and furniture to painting and prints. This aesthetic influence, often referred to as Japonisme, was especially strong among Impressionist artists in France. Of particular interest to the Impressionists were ukiyo-e prints, the subject matter of which echoed their own desire to capture fleeting moments of everyday urban life in their art.

Mary Cassatt was inspired by ukiyo-e prints after seeing an exhibition in 1890 at Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. Drawn to the thematic centrality of women’s lives in these prints, as well as their unique approach to composition and technical innovativeness, Cassatt immediately adopted elements of ukiyo-e in her own work. Following the Japanese habit of creating prints in groups, Cassatt created her own series of ten prints in 1890–91. The Fitting is one of these.

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