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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Edgar Degas
French, 1834–1917

Mary Cassat at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery

Etching with softground, aquatint, and drypoint, 1879–80
Fredrick B. and Kate L. Shoemaker Fund, 1955.22

Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), an American artist living in France, contemplates the Sarcophagus of the Spouses in the Etruscan Gallery of the Louvre. She is absorbed in the art around her, and neither the viewer nor the seated figure of Lydia, her sister, can see her face. Edgar Degas and his colleagues Bracquemond, Pissarro, and Cassatt avidly experimented with printmaking techniques at this time. All four were involved in an unrealized project to launch a journal of prints to be called Le Jour et la Nuit (Day and Night), for which this work was intended. The print an inventive mixture of intaglio processes (in which the image is incised into a surface) in a surprising and innovative composition. Evidence of Degas’s love of Japanese prints is seen here in the flattened shapes and in Cassatt’s long, narrow silhouette.
Degas met Cassatt in 1877. He brought her into the world of the French Impressionists, inviting her to exhibit with them. The two became close friends, inspiring and influencing each other. Even though Degas produced only 64 print compositions, he is considered one of the greatest painter/printmakers to ever exist.