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"Little Girl in a Blue Armchair": A Closer Look


Infrared reflectogram composite with Cassatt's original demarcation (solid line), Degas's alteration (broken line), and the dog's alternative placement (circle)

In a letter to the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, Cassatt wrote that Degas not only advised her as she painted Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, but even worked on the background. Recent
 cleaning, restoration, and technical
 analysis have been instrumental in 
identifying Degas’s role. The paint
 surface in the corner of the room
 beyond the furniture shows evidence
 of having been scraped or rubbed, a 
technique used often by Degas but 
only rarely by Cassatt. Infrared imaging,
 moreover, reveals that Cassatt had initially used a horizontal line to mark the edge of the floor and a single back wall that was parallel to the picture plane. Degas made the space more dynamic by adding the corner, creating a junction of two walls and thus introducing a diagonal that expanded the room spatially. The use of such wide angle diagonals to define interior architecture was common in Degas’s work, but unprecedented in Cassatt’s.

To accommodate the new corner, Cassatt had to adjust her composition. She repositioned the armless couch in the background to align with the now sloping wall. She also reconsidered the placement of the dog. While it now rests comfortably on a chair, the infrared image indicates that she had tried placing it on the floor, seated in front of the couch. Eventually, she painted it out there and set it back on the chair.