National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Girl Arranging Her Hair Mary Cassatt (artist)
American, 1844 - 1926
Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1886
oil on canvas
overall: 75.1 x 62.5 cm (29 9/16 x 24 5/8 in.) framed: 96.5 x 83.2 cm (38 x 32 3/4 in.)
Chester Dale Collection
1963.10.97
On View
From the Tour: Mary Cassatt — Selected Paintings
Object 5 of 10

Girl Arranging Her Hairwas greatly admired at the last impressionist exhibition, held in 1886. However, no one praised the painting more highly than Edgar Degas, who acquired the work for his own collection.

Cassatt's theme is one that Degas himself often portrayed: a woman's toilette. Cassatt deliberately chose a plain adolescent as her subject so that appreciation of the painting would not depend on the beauty of the model. Clad in a loose chemise and seated before a washstand and mirror, she performs the routine task of coiling her hair. The girl's pose is awkward but natural, imparting grace and rhythm to the composition. The S-curve formed by her arms and the twist of her hair creates a fluid surface pattern.

Recalling the lessons of the past when composing this picture, the painter looked back to the Renaissance for inspiration. To show the natural beauty of the young girl's gesture, Cassatt adopted the uplifted bent arm and turned head of Michelangelo's sculpture, The Dying Slave. Yet, the ambiguity of space, the overlapping patterns of furnishings and wallpaper, as well as the elevated angle of vision in this painting, all seem to come from another source--Japanese woodcuts. Cassatt was long an admirer of the bold style in Oriental prints. By 1886, when this picture was done, she had fully analyzed them and mastered their compositional strategies.

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