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Mary Cassatt 1844–1926
Mary Cassatt's confident watercolor, one of her few self-portraits, was created around 1880, a year after she began exhibiting with the French impressionists. Cassatt used her art to address the many roles of the modern woman—as mother, as intellectual, and here, as professional artist. Though dressed fashionably, Cassatt is not content to just be admired, but returns the viewer's gaze. Concealing her sketching surface from view, Cassatt playfully reverses expectations, suggesting in this self-portrait that it is the viewer who is being appraised by the artist.

The composition of Cassatt's work reveals its modernity. Calligraphic dashes of green in the right background suggest wallpaper, while the wash of rich yellow at the left evokes sunlight pouring over the artist's shoulders and casting her face into shadow. Bold strokes that emphasize color, mood, and motion celebrate the artist's touch. Although Cassatt does not depict her hands, she shows evidence of their rapid work.

Watercolor and gouache over graphite on paper, circa 1880
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
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