This Sunday is Mother’s Day, so it’s only appropriate that today’s post tackle one of art’s most recurring and powerful subjects, mother and child. Originating from depictions of Madonna and the Christ child, maternal portraits are very common throughout art history, and were an especially important subject for Impressionist artists Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, two early powerhouses of this artistic movement.
Berthe Morisot was not formally trained as a painter, but found success at the Paris Salon and showed her work at all of the Impressionist exhibitions. Morisot painted from daily life, and The Cradle is one of her most well-known works. The entire foreground of the picture is made up of a large cradle, and a young mother (probably the artist’s sister) sits watching the sleeping baby. Nineteenth century ideals for raising children had changed, and there was a move away from using wet nurses and nannies. Women were encouraged to embrace motherhood, and the nurseries in middle and upper-middle class homes were female spaces. Fashion magazines even started advertising the latest in fashionable “indoor” wear, perfect for “mothering.”
Morisot and Cassatt were good friends, and both were interested in the depiction of women’s private lives and the lives of their young children. Cassatt repeated the theme of women caring for children in her works starting in the 1880s, and by 1900 she focused almost exclusively on the subject. The Child’s Bath shows a mother tenderly bathing her young child. It is an intimate scene, and Cassatt portrays the mother’s concern for her child’s health and well-being.
Her later work on paper, Mother and Child Before a Pool shows a mother gently drying her wet child with a towel after a dip in the pool. Her style here is much simpler than The Child’s Bath, and shows the influence of Japanese woodcuts, favored by Cassatt at the time. The picture is constructed of light, delicate pastel colors, which are a nod to this style.
I’m sad not to be able to spend this Mother’s Day with my mom in Virginia, but I’ve made a decadent coconut cake (her favorite!) to honor her from afar! She has some surprises coming in the mail, and I’m sending her lots of virtual hugs!
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and my mother-in-law – I wish you both all the love and joy on your special day that you give me the rest of the year!
Make your mom (or friends, or husband, or colleagues) this decadent cake to let her know how special she is!
Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Featured art: Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath, oil on canvas, 1893
Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child Before a Pool, circa 1898, drypoint and aquatint on paper
Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, oil on canvas, 1872