Monday, May 5, 2014

Impressionism (pt. 26)

The artist's most famous painting is probably this one, titled The Boating Party.  It was done during a summer vacation Cassatt spent on the French Riviera.
The curves of the boat and the sail lead your eye to the center of interest: the mother and child.  The oarsman's gaze is directed toward this very center, and we also see the mother and child clearly, while everything else is out of focus.  We see them at eye-level, as if we're sitting in the boat, too, behind the oarsman.  The vibrancy of the almost neon colors in the painting infuse the work with an energy that we as the viewers don't know how to respond to.  Thank goodness for the calm mother, sitting tranquilly with her content baby in the center of the frame, to provide balance and softness to the subject matter.  They are the redeeming light of all the electric chaos occurring along the water and throughout the wind on such a bright day (the wind must be noticeably strong; the sail is full).  And they balance out the impending figure of the darkly-dressed oarsman, who, with his back to us and face partially covered, looks slightly foreboding and unsafe.  He sits in a wild pose, bracing his right leg against the sitting board in front of him and stretching his arms far out in order to row.  He is holding on tight, being rocked to and fro by the unsteady movements of the boat; but notice how calmly and straight the mother and child sit (well, the mother, at least; I suppose the same cannot be said for the child).  The mother is tall and erect, in a stately pose of grace and refinement.  For such a high horizon line, too, Cassatt has painted the mother as the only figure in the painting who stretches over all planes (the tip of her hat touches the sky).
If Modern painters were looking through candid images of everyday life to better paint the world around them and try to reconnect with the world now overrun by industrial Modernism, then certain paintings like this can be seen as new interpretations of traditional ideas.  The mother and child, though not of themselves communicating any inherently religious message within the painting, nevertheless convey the latent reference to Raphael-style paintings of the Madonna and Child (which we looked at during the Italian Renaissance).  The Modern mother figure looks quite different, as well as the babe, but there is still red in her dress.

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