It was Edgar Degas who invited Cassatt to participate in the impressionist exhibitions, and the two remained close associates. Degas respected Cassatt's work, seeing in her careful compositions an approach to art that was deliberate and well thought out. Degas was known for his sharp criticism of other artists' work. He once complained to Cassatt: "What do women know about style?" She took his words as a challenge to produce a work whose appeal derived, not from a conventionally pretty subject, but purely from artifice, the painter's skill, and style. This painting is the result.
She chose a subject that Degas himself had often depicted: an ordinary, working–class girl at her toilette. The beauty of the picture comes from the rigor of the composition and its harmonized contrast of pinks and blues—in the sitter's nightdress, in the background, and even in her skin. While the moment is casual, even private, the girl's pose and the arrangement of furniture behind her are artfully contrived. Note, for example, how the chair back, the dry sink, and the mirror–frame rise in steps parallel to the motion of her arms, echoing and enhancing their upward sweep.
Marks and Labels
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas [1834-1917]; (his atelier sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 26-28 March 1918, no. 8); purchased by Louisine Waldron Havemeyer [1855-1929], New York; (her sale, American Art Association Anderson Galleries, New York, 10 April 1930, no. 75); purchased by Chester Dale [1883-1962]; bequest 1963 to NGA.
- La 8me Exposition de Peinture [Eighth Impressionist Exhibition], Paris, 1886, no. 9, as Etude.
- Exposition Mary Cassatt, Galeries Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1893, no. 17.
- Tableaux et Pastels par Mary Cassatt, Galeries Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1908, no. 1, as La Toilette.
- Possibly Austellung Amerikanische Kunst, Royal Academy of Art, Berlin, 1910, as "Bei der Toilette."
- Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Representative Modern Masters, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1920, no. 7.
- A Memorial Collection of the Works of Mary Cassatt, Art Institute of Chicago, 1926-1927, no. 4, repro., as Girl Combing Her Hair.
- [Memorial Exhibition], Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, 1927, no. 7.
- A Memorial Exhibition of the Work of Mary Cassatt, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1928, no. 9.
- Degas and his Tradition, Museum of French Art, New York, 1931, no. 7.
- A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 438, repro.
- A Survey of American Painting, Baltimore Museum of Art, 1934, no. 11, repro.
- American Painting, Tate Gallery, London, 1946, no. 39, as The Morning Toilet.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
- Mary Cassatt 1844-1926, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1970, no. 38, repro.
- The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986, no. 138, repro. (shown only in Washington).
- Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman, The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998-1999, no. 48, as Study (Etude) (shown only in Washington).
- From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 2010-January 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- "Rush at Auction of Havemeyer Art." The New York Times. 11 April 1930:23
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 42, repro., as The Morning Toilet.
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1944: 42, repro., as The Morning Toilet.
- Jewell, Edward Alden. French Impressionists and their Contemporaries Represented in American Collections. New York, 1944: repro. 82.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 156, color repro., as The Morning Toilet.
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1953: 52, repro., as The Morning Toilet.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 328, repro., as The Morning Toilet.
- Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Paintings & Sculpture of the French School in the Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 82, repro.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:498, color repro.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 22, repro.
- Breeskin, Adelyn Dohme. Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonne of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings. Washington, 1970: no. 146.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 117, pl. 103.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 34, repro.
- Williams 1981, 139, 140, color repro. 154.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 564, no. 857, color repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 40, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 365, no. 300, color repro.
- Pfieffer, Ingrid and Max Hollein. Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond. Exh. cat. Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2008: 26, repro.
- Jones, Kimberley. "Degas/Cassatt." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 49 (Fall 2013): 36-37, repro.