Art

The Bath

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American (Allegheny City, PA 1844 - 1926 Le Mesnil-Theribus, France)
The Bath, 1890-1891
Print
American
,
19th century
Drypoint, softground etching and aquatint
plate: 31.9 x 24.9 cm (12 9/16 x 9 13/16 in.)
sheet: 43.5 x 30.4 cm (17 1/8 x 11 15/16 in.)
B. 143; Mathews/Shapiro 5
,
xvii/xvii (final)
,
25
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, Class of 1907, by exchange
, 2006.24.1
Commentary
At the instigation of Degas, Mary Cassatt began making prints in the late 1870s. Unlike most of her contemporaries who made lithographs, Cassatt experimented with aquatint and softground etching techniques to make tonal prints. In these experiments, she worked closely with Degas and Pissarro. Their methods were new and untried, so only a few impressions were printed from each plate. Yet, these early prints are especially significant to her lifelong printmaking enterprise for they established her interest in and commitment to tonal etching. A pioneering 1890 exhibition of Japanese color woodblock prints at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts inspired Cassatt and her cohorts to begin printing in color, thus expanding the tonal possibilities of their prints. Cassatt's first efforts were a series of ten color etching and aquatints that appeared in her first solo exhibition at the gallery Durand-Ruel in Paris. In this series, Cassatt wanted to replicate the practice and appearance of Japanese woodblock prints produced from multiple blocks but she wanted to use copperplates instead. "The Bath," sometimes called "The Tub," is the first print from that series and simply depicts a woman and a naked baby beside a bathtub.
In order to print in color Cassatt needed to use more than one plate, and the final seventeenth state of "The Tub" is printed from two plates. In this final state, one plate carried the dry point lines and softground decoration, while the second plate carried the tonal areas that printed the colored inks. Along with the very fine impression of the final state, this group of prints includes seven proof states in which Cassatt was working out the necessary process for combining the lines and colored areas within the composition. Of particular note from this group is the forth state which was printed from only one plate. The subsequent proofs, which have overlapping lines and colors, are all printed from two plates. The proofs well demonstrate the experimental nature of Cassatt's printmaking practice--she prints on different color papers and variously leaves ink on the plate to create varying atmospheric areas of tone. The set reveals the ingenuity and diligence necessary to create the final version of the image.
These particular impressions of "The Tub" are historically significant as well. Cassatt kept them among her own "studio collection" which included hundreds of experimental proofs and unpublished prints. When she died in 1926, the collection went to her Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard, who supplemented it by buying back Cassatt prints from her earliest collectors, including Degas. Upon Vollard's death in 1939, the prints were sold to another distinguished Parisian dealer, Henri Petiet, whose heirs began selling off parts of his collection after his death in 1980. The Cassatt prints were first offered through the New York print dealer Marc Rosen in 2000. This set was purchased then but was recently returned to the dealer, thus becoming available to Harvard Art Museum.
Marks
inscription: lower right, graphite pencil, in artist's hand: Imprimé par l'artiste et M. Leroy / Mary Cassatt / (25 épreuves)
stamp: center of lower platemark, blue ink, in artist's hand: Mary Cassatt's blue initial stamp (Lugt 604)
watermark: Arches
Provenance
Ambrose Vollard, Paris, from artist, 1926, bequest, 1939.
Heirs of Ambrose Vollard, Paris, bequest, 1939, sold to Henri Petiet, 1940.
Henri M. Petiet, Paris (Supplement 2021a), purchase, 1940, bequest, 1980.
Estate of Henri Petiet, Paris, bequest, 1980, sold to Marc Rosen.
Marc Rosen, New York, purchase, sold to Harvard University Art Museums, 2006.
Bibliography
Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), pp. 178-9, ill.