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This image was painted by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), a female Impressionist painter. This oil on canvas is currently hanging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, although Cassatt was actually born in Pittsburg to a wealthy family. She later moved to Paris in 1866 to further her art training, as Paris was the popular haven for renowned artists at the time. She had work exhibited in the Paris Salon early in her career, and was invited into the impressionist group by Degas, a fellow in-studio painter. She usually painted domestic scenes, images depicting mother and children together, and the Parisian social groups. She was a female artist in the male-dominated profession, which paved the way for other female artists to emerge in the coming decades. A Woman and Girl Driving shows Cassatt’s sister, Lydia, Degas’ niece, and a dark groom in the background. Mary and Lydia were very close, and Lydia moved with her parents to Paris in 1877. The work is a great example of impressionist painting—a sketchy application of paint and colors that are not well mixed. Despite the roughness of application, the painting still looks coherent and smooth.
The black and green background draws the eye to the central figures, especially the young girl in white with pops of red color from her companion. The man in black is mysterious; the viewer doesn’t see his face or that of the laboring horse. It is interesting that the woman is driving the carriage when the dominant male is there—the painting is set in the 1880s so one would think it should be switched (Cassatt a feminist?). The figures look detached and gloomy; it’s not a sentimental mother and child painting, but the flesh is still rendered tenderly (i.e. the faint blush on the girl’s cheek). The girls depicted are high (or at least not low or working) class; they can afford fancy dresses and carriages. There is also a sense of the movement and passing of time. The reins on the horse are blurred as well as the wheel to depict speed. The young girl (whose coloring looks like that of Manet’s Olympia, yet less harsh) is rendered more smoothly/in finer detail than the older woman (look at the fabric on her skirt, lap, and hat). As for the composition, the vertical gap in the background directly contrasts with the horizontal movement of the horse to suggest action. Interestingly, no one in the painting maintains eye contact with the viewer, but the girl’s hand resting carelessly on the carriage reaches out to us.