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)