Published: Adelson Galleries, Inc. 2008
Hard and softcovers
In the first exhibition, there were more than two hundred prints and drawings, I was convinced that the show would receive critical interest, but I was doubtful that it would be commercially viable. The prints were created in mediums so varied and arcane that I thought the public would have trouble comprehending what these objects were. There were drypoints, soft-ground etchings, and aquatint etchings, all in various states and on different papers. It was confusing to me, and I had been in the business for decades. And I felt that we were offering too many works of art by Cassatt at once for the market to absorb. However, just a few days after the opening on November 10, 2000, it became clear that I had underestimated the magnetism of the artist and the enthusiasm of the public. The exhibition was a critical success, “a real fireball” in the words of the reviewer in the November 13, 2000 issue of Newsweek magazine, and it was nearly sold outwithin the month. I had similar concerns with the second exhibition, Art in a Mirror: The Counterproofs of Mary Cassatt, which I felt would be even more daunting. Most professionals barely understood the counterproof medium, and I knew most collectors were not familiar with it. (It is pastel run through a press on dampened Japan paper to create an opposing image, which is the counterproof.) I was wrong again. People loved them and were enchanted by the soft Nabis-like images with backward, mirror image signatures.
The current exhibition, Mary Cassatt: Prints and Drawings from the Collection of Ambroise Vollard, is the third and final one of the series. In addition to prints and drawings from Vollard’s “Studio Collection,” it includes several works from the collection of Robert Hartshore, who acquired them during Cassatt’s lifetime, most of them from her primary gallery, Durand-Ruel. It affords the viewer the rare opportunity to see Cassatt in the continuum of her production, through 140 examples of her graphic work from the beginning to the end of her career. Among these were many early prints and the finely executed drawings that were preliminary studies for them, along with rare examples in etching and drypoint, and several color prints that are unique in palette.
As we were preparing this catalogue, a journalist asked me what I have learned from these exhibitions- an apt question. I have come to realize that Cassatt was compelled by her work, and was absorbed in the process of drawing and printmaking as few others of her time, or any time have been. She owned her own printing press, inked her plates, and pulled the prints herself. She was obsessive in her approach and was willing to experiment beyond the bounds of the mediums she explored. Cassatt thought only of creating new work that would exploit the many possibilities of the medium, and she surpassed her peers, including her formidable friend Edgar Degas. She created a body of graphic art that appears as daring and innovative today as it did in her time, reflecting her independent spirit and unbridled passion as an artist. My admiration for her has multiplied over these years, and my understanding of her work has increased tenfold.
I am grateful to Marc Rosen and Susan Pinsky, who have made these exhibitions possible. Their meticulous work and keen grasp of the material have added immeasurably to our understanding of the art of Mary Cassatt. Marc has also contributed reminiscence of his years with the great collector and dealer Henri M. Petiet and his family. Nancy Mathews has written an exceptional essay articulating Cassatt’s working relationship with Ambroise Vollard and the critical role he played in her art as a collector and dealer. Sarah Bertalan’s insightful essay on the physical aspects of Cassatt’s printmaking is essential for appreciating the subtlety of the artist’s process. I am especially grateful to Pamela Ivinski and Bill Gerdts for their work on the Cassatt catalogue raisonné project, and to Barbara Shapiro for her contributions and support. Jan Adelson, Todd Masters, and Lisa Hankin organized the catalogue and oversaw the reproduction of the photographs; Stephen Robert Frenkel edited all the texts with great skill; and Karen Stough ably proofread the galleys. We are proud of their superlative efforts in making the catalogue a success.