Collecting and Exchanging Art

DEX65

Mary Cassatt, The Visitor, c. 1881,
softground etching, drypoint, aquatint, etching, and fabric texture,
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)

Degas and Cassatt collected each other’s art, occasionally even making direct exchanges of works they particularly admired. Degas amassed nearly one hundred works by Cassatt, more than by any other contemporary artist. Her prints constituted the bulk of his collection. Degas clearly admired not only the prints themselves but also the process through which they were created, as evidenced by his possession of multiple states of the same print. Cassatt’s etching The Visitor is a prime example. In addition to the preparatory drawing, the catalog of Degas’s estate sale lists a “unique series of thirteen states” of this print. Cassatt may have sent impressions to Degas to keep him up to date on her progress as she was revising the image on the copperplate.

In contrast to the acquisitive Degas, Cassatt was quite modest in her own collecting habits. She preferred to act as a liaison between her fellow impressionists (Degas in particular) and wealthy American collectors of her acquaintance. She owned only a few works by impressionist artists, but here Degas held a special place, represented by a half-dozen works. Unlike Degas, Cassatt did not retain her personal collection until her death. Late in life she discreetly sold the works she had accumulated, including those by Degas, carefully placing most of them with American collectors she knew and trusted.