In her frequent depictions of children, Mary Cassatt invested relatively quiet and unexceptional moments with considerable dynamism in handling and composition.
Child in a Straw Hat is one of many paintings Cassatt made of little girls appearing to play dress-up. But where Cassatt often portrayed girls taking pleasure in the act of role-playing, here the child’s expression suggests that she is not enjoying herself. Isolated and required to stand still, her demeanor conveys a mixture of pensiveness, frustration, and boredom. While the subject matter captures a languid moment, the paint is handled energetically. Broad, visible brushstrokes are used throughout the composition, forming abstract patterns in some areas, such as the white sleeves of the blouse and smock. The paint was applied quickly and directly to the canvas, in a manner referred to as alla prima, which lends an appearance of spontaneity to the work.