Art Lesson for Children: The Boating Chimp
based on The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt.
Rock the Boat!
When you look at this painting, you seem to be standing on the rim of the boat. You are so close that you can't even see much of the sail, or even the end of the oar!
Take a look at the original painting at Washington DC's National Gallery of Art. What part of the painting do you think Mary Cassatt wanted you to pay the most attention to? The man's dark clothing stands out against the lighter and brighter colors. If the man were looking towards you, he might hold your attention. But he is looking towards the baby. Look at the curves of the boat and the angle of the sail. What other ways does the painting move your attention around?
Daring to Be Different
In 1860, when Mary Cassatt had just turned sixteen, she entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The school was one of the few to accept female students, but young women still weren't allowed to take some of the courses. So Cassatt taught herself as much as she could on her own.
When she was older, she sailed to Paris. She wanted to study at the famous art school, the Académie des Beaux-Arts. But this school wouldn't accept women at all. Cassatt continued painting and learning on her own. In a few years, her paintings began to be accepted at the Salon, which was an art show that the Académie held each year.
The people running the Salon had very firm ideas on how art should look. Cassatt liked trying out new ideas in her painting. She used bright colors and painted her models from different views. Often she left out details that would move the viewer's attention away from the important parts of the painting. Some people thought she was just a lazy or messy artist.
When a group of independent artists, the Impressionists, asked her to join them, she accepted. The men in the group often painted performers or people in cafes. But a woman painting in a café was't allowed at this time. So Cassatt painted people at the opera or at home.
Mother and Child
Look at Cassatt's The Boating Party again.
What if Cassatt had painted the baby differently, so that she was sitting upright on her mother's lap and was looking straight at you? Would you feel the same way about this painting?
Mary Cassatt was well known for her paintings of mothers and babies. Sometimes the models were family or friends. Sometimes the models weren't from the same family at all, but Cassatt liked the way the woman and child looked together. Sometimes she would paint models who weren't considered pretty or attractive. Painting how an individual person looked in real life didn't interest Cassatt as much as putting together models in a way that helped each particular painting.
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