Art in a Mirror: The Counterproofs of Mary Cassatt
Essays by Warren Adelson, Marc Rosen, Susan Pinsky, Jay E. Cantor, and Pamela Ivinski
Published: Adelson Galleries, 2004
Softcover
133 pages
ISBN: 0-9741621-1-6
Foreword
Art in a Mirror: The Counterproofs of Mary Cassatt Foreword by Warren Adelson After years of training in Europe as an academic painter, Mary Cassatt, a Pennsylvanian transplanted to Paris after the Civil War, became a colleague of Edgar Degas and discovered her path in modern art. It was in the atmosphere of Claude Monet's Impressionist revolution of the 1870s that she matured as an independent artist and worked in concert with the creators of "the new painting." She hung twelve works in the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1879 and continued to exhibit with the radical group in the next decade. In 1880 she joined her friend and mentor Degas in a project to make original prints, and it was in this medium that she was to excel as the most daring and experimental of all her colleagues. In the little-used mediums of etching, soft ground, drypoint, and aquatint, Cassatt pulled black-and-white prints, first from Degas's press and then from one she acquired to use in her own studio. She began to achieve tonal harmonies and tactile linear effects in subjects taken from modern life. A decade later, Cassatt was thrilled by the great exhibition of Japanese prints at the École des Beaux-Arts, a massive event with thousands of objects that was the talk of the art world on both sides of the Atlantic. Inspired by the brilliant color woodcuts of Hokusai, Utamaro, and other recorders of Japanese life, Cassatt produced ten aquatints with subjects derived from her own experience and observations, applying the color to the copper plates for each print herself and creating a luminous and haunting series that remains a landmark in the medium. These works became the highlight of her first one-person show at Galeries Durand-Ruel in 1891 and received critical and public acclaim. (Cassatt was Durand-Ruel's only American artist.)

By the turn of the century, Cassatt had established herself as a pivotal figure within the canon of modernism. She grew disenchanted with Durand-Ruel during this time, and began to work with the younger and more daring Ambroise Vollard, whose gallery in Montmartre had become the epicenter of cutting-edge art. Vollard loved the graphic arts and single-handedly created the marketplace for works on paper by painters, urging his artists-Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, and Édouard Vuillard, as well as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse-to work in multiple images. Vollard understood Cassatt's restless experimentation and the summary nature of her work, and he enthusiastically purchased paintings and pastels that were thought to be too "unfinished" by the more conservative Durand-Ruel. It was in this context that the counterproofs in this exhibition were produced.

The unfolding of these events is brilliantly brought to life by Jay E. Cantor and Pamela A. Ivinski in the two essays contained in the exhibition catalogue. Marc Rosen and Susan Pinsky, the exhibition's producers, knew where these works had been kept. Through their efforts the trove has now been brought to light. We are grateful to them for their special insights and to the other people who have helped in the production of this unique event. William H. Gerdts contributed his wise counsel as a member of the Mary Cassatt Catalogue Raisonné Committee. Andrea Maltese has organized the production of the exhibition and this publication. Hubbard Toombs registered the collection, and my colleagues at Adelson Galleries have been attentive to every detail. They have my thanks.

Warren Adelson
Preface
Four years ago, we were excited by the opportunity to present, at Adelson Galleries, an extraordinary cache of prints and drawings from the studio of Mary Cassatt. Those recently discovered works greatly expanded our knowledge of the artist's activities in printmaking and provided a unique view into her artistic methods. We were made aware then of a small group of pastel counterproofs by Mary Cassatt, works whose production had been encouraged by Ambroise Vollard. We had only a brief glimpse at the time, but when these became available, we realized that here, too, was a rich repository of undisturbed pictures, a veritable time capsule from an earlier epoch. While going through the collection, set aside by Vollard so long ago and nearly forgotten, we were stunned by both the range of the collection and the extraordinary freshness of the works.

A pastel counterproof is made by placing a dampened sheet of paper on top of a pastel and applying pressure (by rubbing or by the use of a press) to transfer some of the surface of the pastel to the new sheet. The technique can be remarkably successful in creating a second work, which is in mirror image and is somewhat softer looking, while the pastel itself appears essentially unchanged, even if more than one counterproof impression was made from it.

This process was used frequently by artists of the eighteenth century but lapsed early in the nineteenth with the ascendancy of Romanticism, which demanded the weightier aesthetic of oil paint. In the later nineteenth century, the fresh and airy hues of pastel were once again found to be particularly appealing, and the flattened surfaces and subtle colors that result from the counterproof process naturally attracted artists who were immersed in the ethereal symbolism and patterns that characterized much Post-Impressionist art at the turn of the century.

Mary Cassatt's friend and champion, Edgar Degas, produced a great number of counterproofs of charcoal drawings and pastels, several of which he eventually reworked. But Cassatt, who we now know produced a comparable body of work in this medium, appears to have left her counterproofs untouched.

In the exhibition catalogue, Warren Adelson, Jay E. Cantor and Pamela A. Ivinski, discuss the lively role of Ambroise Vollard as a motivating dealer in the artistic community of Paris of his time and examine Cassatt's counterproofs within the context of this moment. Without Vollard's interest, encouragement, and his ever hopeful projects for the future, much artwork of his era would never have been produced. The exhibition for which this catalogue has been published is an occasion to celebrate both the revelation of previously unknown works by Mary Cassatt and the vision of Ambroise Vollard.

We are delighted to add to the literature on the artist with the production of this volume, Art in a Mirror: The Counterproofs of Mary Cassatt, as a complement to our earlier publication, Mary Cassatt, Prints and Drawings from the Artist's Studio, and are pleased to continue our long-standing collaboration with Adelson Galleries and its fine staff. * These are included in the sale catalogues of works from the Degas studio as "Impressions en couleur et en noir" and "Impressions rehaussées de couleurs."

Marc Rosen and Susan Pinsky
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