National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Mary Cassatt created this watercolor, one of her few self-portraits, around 1880, a year after she began exhibiting her work 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. Although dressed fashionably, Cassatt is not content to be admired, but returns the viewer's gaze. Concealing her sketching surface from view, she playfully reverses expectations, suggesting that the artist is appraising the viewer. Strokes of green in the right background suggest wallpaper, while the wash of rich yellow at the left evokes the sunlight that pours over the artist's shoulders and casts her face into shadow. The bold strokes of Cassatt's drawing, emphasizing color, mood, and motion, celebrate her rapid touch and the modernity of her style.