How might one best interpret and/or describe Mary Cassatt's painting "The Boating Party"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only American who participated in the Impressionist exhibitions is Mary Cassatt, who made a career of painting.  Having pursued her painting career in Europe, Cassatt became aware of Impressionism in the 1870s and began to brighten her palette and create plein-air paintings. Of course, the climax of Cassatt's career came when Edgar Degas invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists.

Like Degas, Mary Cassatt was essentially a figure painter, using mostly women and girls as her subjects.  Certainly, from the 1880s, mothers and their babies became a favorite subject.  Settings were usually gardens or domestic interiors; however, Cassatt did venture out farther as in The Boating Party.  Also, her penchant for fresh faces and large-limbed subjects is apparent and distinctive. Like many of her contemporaries,

Cassatt was influenced by the smooth, clean lines and flat color areas and unusual compositions characteristic of Japanese prints.

In The Boating Party, for instance, there is even a resemblance to the Japanese in the woman's face. The lines of the boat and sail and the rower are very distinct and clean as the color of the sail and the boat are rather flat. Nevertheless, these flat color areas do not "militate" against the apparent three-dimensional effect that the boat makes as it appears to heave forward towards the viewer. In contrast to the sharp outlines of the boat--a boat in which the viewer feels he may almost climb into--and its occupants, especially the rower, the sea is painted in the more Impressionistic style as bold brush strokes and the play of light suggests the choppy sea against the shoreline. The child squirms in a natural movement for one his age, while the oar is cut from the viewer's sight. Certainly, the foreground possesses a realistic dimension and depth unknown to the rest of the painting that is more impressionistic and flat.

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Painted on the southern coast of France in the early 1890's, Cassatt's "The Boating Party" clearly shows her artistic movement away from the soft, feathery strokes and immediacy of the light-capturing Impressionistic style, and into something more influenced by Japanese prints:  abstract shapes, clearly defined lines, saturated colors, and a strong horizontal presence at the top of the canvas.  One might interpret this as simply a pleasant afternoon outing--Cassatt loved to paint mothers with their children--or one could view it as something more sinister, depending on how one interprets the strong presence of the man rowing in the foreground.  In any case, the blues and yellows are very much in keeping with, and may have been inspired by, the sunny French setting in which it was painted.  "Under the Horse Chesnut Tree", done by Cassatt in 1898, bears a remarkable resemblance to "The Boating Party" in style--Cassatt was clearly still "under the influence" of the Japanese prints that, interestly, had also begun to captivate the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who lined his dining room at Giverney with them.

etotheeyepi | Student

Mom says that every woman should have a black lace bra, so I must say that I find Cassatt's Boating Party, stereotypically sexist.

The wind blows the boat in a direction opposite to the direction that the man rows.  The man's foot braced against the seat suggests that he puts extra effort into the enterprise, but the woman makes no effort to the trim the sail or help him row. She sits looking on as if she has no duty to help.

Now, you must excuse me. I'm off to see the wizard and to burn my black lace bra.