Interpretive Resource

Overview: Cassatt's The Child Bath

An introduction to Cassatt's tender painting of the nurturing and trusting relationship between a woman and child.

Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 150.

Created in an era that romanticized maternity, Mary Cassatt’s images of women caring for children display remarkable honesty. Cassatt relied upon keen observation, rather than idealization, to portray a relationship built upon nurturing care and innocent trust. In The Child’s Bath, the woman’s gestures—one firm hand securing the child in her lap, the other gently caressing its small foot—are fully natural and routine, but they also communicate her tender concern for the child’s well-being. In response the child is quiet and calm, assured in an embrace of maternal care and competence. Rather than glance at each other, the two figures gaze in the same direction, looking together at their paired reflection in the basin of water. Wrapped in a moment of mutual absorption, they seem to exist as a single entity.

Cassatt always identified herself as an Impressionist. She exhibited with the group in the 1870s and 1880s, and more importantly shared her colleagues’ commitment to modern-life subjects. Her point of view—derived from her experience as a genteel, upper-middle-class, American woman—provided a domestic counterpart to the more public imagery of cafés, street scenes, and horse races painted by Edgar Degas and other male Impressionists. In The Child’s Bath and other works, Cassatt presented her own response to the enduring theme of the bather. However, if examples by Degas such as The Morning Bath or The Tub arguably provide voyeuristic glimpses of adult bathers caught unawares, Cassatt by contrast was protective of her subjects. Compressing the compositional space and utilizing a high vantage point, she established an aura of intimacy, while keeping the viewer at a respectful distance.

children, domestic scenes, emotions, everyday life, Impressionism, portraits, water, women


High School

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