Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Sketch of 'Sara Holding a Cat'

pastel on paper
1912 x 1512 in. (49.5 x 39.4 cm.)
Executed circa 1907-08.
The artist.
Payson Thompson, acquired from the above.
American Art Association, New York, 12 January 1928, lot 78, sold by the above (as Girl with Kitten).
E.M. Lane, acquired from the above.
Edward Ward McMahon, Brooklyn, New York.
American Art Association, New York, 24 January 1929, lot 76 (as Child and Kitten).
Mr. and Mrs. James S. Collins, Haverford, Pennsylvania, by 1966.
By descent to the present owner.
"Auction Reports•Thompson Paintings," Art News, vol. 26, January 21, 1928, p. 9.
"McMahon and Comstock Collections Exhibition," Art News, vol. 27, January 19, 1929, p. 21.
A.D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue of Oils, Pastels, Watercolors and Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 185, no. 491, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Mary Cassatt: Pastels and Color Prints, February 24-April 30, 1978, pp. 14, 35, no. 34, fig. 7, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

This work is included in the Cassatt Committee’s revision of Adelyn Doehme Breeskin’s catalogue raisonné of the works of Mary Cassatt.

Mary Cassatt executed Sketch for 'Sara Holding a Cat' circa 1908 during her final and most serious exploration of the theme of the single child. Cassatt received much acclaim for her pictures of this subject, returning to the theme throughout her career and investigating it in various media. Similarly significant was Cassatt's choice after 1900 to use the same models repeatedly, particularly children from Mesnil-Theribus, Oise, the village near her country home, Beaufresne, fifty miles northwest of Paris. In 1901, she began to frequently employ Sara, the young golden-haired girl depicted in the present work, who according to Adelyn Breeskin, was a granddaughter of one of the former presidents of the French Republic, Emile Loubet. (Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 150) The sweetness of Sara's face, the ethereality of her features and her reportedly good-natured demeanor made her a favored model for Cassatt during these years, and she was the subject of many of the artist's works from the period including Sara in a Green Bonnet. (circa 1901, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.) The present work is also related to the oil painting Sara Holding a Cat (circa 1907-08, Private Collection).

In addition to the theme of the single child, Sara Holding a Cat also touches on another leitmotif of Cassatt's career, maternity. In the present work, the young girl imitates a mother's affectionate hold of an infant in her gentle, caring embrace of the kitten, capturing the concept of "playing mother." The affected maternity is simultaneously endearing and a vehicle for social commentary. "To some extent Cassatt's exploration of the child–not the baby–in adult costume, pose and expression reflects aspects of early-twentieth-century psychology, absorbed by Cassatt in her wide reading of sociological, psychological, and parapsychological literature." (N.M. Mathews, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1987, p. 125)
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