- Mary Cassatt
- Pastel on paper
The Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt created portraits of young girls wearing stylish hats in the early 1900s, which convey her delight in contemporary fashion and expressive lines. This pastel drawing, Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 2), depicts a young girl named Simone—likely a resident of the village near the artist’s home—wearing a white dress and a large, blue-green hat. Simone was a frequent model in Cassatt’s late work, and was portrayed in a wide array of frilly dresses and extravagant hats decorated with ribbons, flowers, and plumes (see image below). This portrait was made in various degrees of finish; Simone’s delicate features are shown in considerable detail, while her dress is simply made up of hatches of white and pink pigment. The bonnet is defined by contour lines filled with sketchy strokes, with a pale pink scribble just inside the brim in the upper right that may suggest a flower.
Costume and hats are key elements of Cassatt’s works, as signifiers of identity and social standing. Cassatt was a connoisseur of the finest fashions in Paris at the time and was clearly aware of trends for both women and girls. The artist carefully selected costumes and accessories for her subjects, and sometimes had gowns specially commissioned for her paintings. Her later pastels, such as this one, tend to represent girls virtually overwhelmed by immense hats, the millinery style popular at the turn of the 20th century. Cassatt was also fascinated with capturing different clothing textures. Simone’s bonnet is less finished than her face, but the sketchy pastel strokes and swooping lines of the hat suggest it was made of a soft material, such as velvet or felt.
The Saint Louis Art Museum’s pastel drawing relates to several other works featuring similar bonnets, including Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 3) in the collection of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College (see image above). Despite the shared titles and similarities in attire, close inspection of the two pictures reveals that the drawings depict two different children—one girl with blonde hair and the other a slightly younger girl with brown hair. The dark-haired girl in the Davis pastel drawing shares traits with a frequent model in Cassatt’s late works, who is identified as Margot. In the finished oil painting portrait Spring: Margot Standing in the Garden (see image below), this girl is likely wearing the same hat that appears in the two pastel drawings.
A comparison of the St. Louis and Wellesley drawings raises questions about the identities of the models and about Cassatt’s practice of creating these late portraits. Art historian and Cassatt specialist Nancy Mowll Mathews argues that the artist often posed models with hats selected from her own collection, and would sometimes use the same hat in a variety of works, if she liked the aesthetic effect it created. This may be the case with these two pastels featuring different young girls wearing what appears to be the same fashionable hat.