Painting of the Month – Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt by Mary Cassatt

This month’s featured painting is Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt by Mary Cassatt.

Mary Cassatt, Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt, 1880
Mary Cassatt, Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt, 1880

Click here for a high-resolution photo of the painting.

Brief Details About the Painting:

  • Oil on canvas.
  • 104 x 77 cm (40.9 x 30.3 inches).
  • Completed 1880.
  • Location: Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris.

Your Thoughts?

Use this as an opportunity to test your ability to analyze master paintings. In the comments below, share what you think are the top 3 most important aspects of the painting. These could relate to areas such as composition, color, value, progress, brushwork, subject, or symbolism. Once you have done that, you can compare your thoughts with my own in the drop-down below.

Click here to see my thoughts.

  • I always find Impressionist portraits interesting. The Impressionists didn’t focus on carefully rendering the skin tones and meticulously capturing the subject’s forms and anatomy. Yet they were able to capture the subject’s likeness and nature. They also placed more emphasis on the environment rather than focusing all attention on the subject and their identity. This painting is a perfect example. The surrounding landscape and the woman’s clothing compete with the woman for your attention. It’s a painting about the woman in this environment rather than the woman herself.
  • The subject’s clothing melts into nature’s autumn colors. Her clothing is both distinct, yet part of this larger area.
  • The lightest colors represent the subject’s face. The darkest colors represent her hat and scarf. Their close proximity creates a striking contrast that draws our attention.
  • Notice the use of simplification. The trees are conveyed with nothing more than a few dark shapes and dabs of light color.
  • Cassatt painted the bench with rough green shapes and a few loosely scumbled highlights. It might appear sloppy by itself, but it fits within the overall style of the painting. It doesn’t matter if you paint a certain part well if it doesn’t fit with everything else!

12 thoughts on “Painting of the Month – Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt by Mary Cassatt”

  1. Lydia is dressed in autumn colours; brush strokes highlight texture of forest background, lydia’s coat and seating; sense that Lydia is not well and is dressed against increasing cold

  2. Definite use of simple colour palette. Her face and hat are clearly defined as centre of interest. Position and green colour of bench helps separate woman from background. Not a lot of detail needed to convey her shawl and surrounding park.

  3. The face and hat are certainly center stage, but I find her dress disruptive. Two colors maybe but all those colors and lines take away from what could have a good painting.

  4. What is the subject waiting for? I see an expectant or perhaps a dreadful look on her face and what looks like a walking stick in her lap. Why did the artist include this? The colors of the coat and bench draw you to the subject even though they are not very detailed. I see more detail in the gloved hand holding the stick than in the coat or the hat.

  5. Details are kept to minimum; used only to help us know the subject matter and environment. The contrast betwen the pale person and the autumn colors is striking and somehow telling us something about the woman.

  6. I saw this painting at the “Whistler to Cassatt” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, and stood looking at it for a long time. I love the use of warm and cool colors, but what captured my attention was the expression on Lydia’s face. She was unwell at the time, and looks like a woman contemplating her mortality.
    The loose brushstrokes are very effective in conveying the pattern of her coat as well as the surrounding terrain. It looks like a cold, maybe damp Fall day.

  7. The simplified face in among all the business of the rest of the painting makes the subject stand out. This painting seems to have movement in the background and although there are some warm Autumn colours it has a chilly feel. To me, the dark around her face and head gives it a sombre feel too. Not my favourite portrait, too noisy and busy for me.

  8. I have always liked this painting!! But now that I paint, and like to think of myself as an artist, I do see it differently! The high resolution photo really looks quite different! Thank you! I do see her face, head as the focus. The tree in the background stand out slightly, but only to make me aware of her surroundings, not to show them to me. The corner of the bench on the left of the painting is also important, she is sitting there. The bench itself is not important. So she is somewhere outdoors, it must be chilly, near a wood. Her face doesn’t give anything away, but only makes me want to know why she is there, what is she thinking, is she waiting for someone to join her or is she just deep in her thoughts!
    Good grief, I saw more than I realized when I first began to write!! That makes a good painting!!!

  9. Her face is the focal point in the painting. The dark hat and the dark scarf draw our attention to her pale face. Her face is expressionless, and makes me wonder what she is really thinking. I also notice how the warm colors of her surroundings merge with the colors of her clothing. The green trees in the background, the bluish grey colors of the bench and the loose brushstrokes add interest to the painting, and let the surroundings stand more out.

  10. This work is intensely zoomed in to the figure with the face being the primary focal point. The autumn mood is captured quite well with surrounding muted tones. The pattern on the woman’s wrap frames her figure and separates her from the cold day. Her hat and scarf provide a sculpture like frame around the face increasing the intensity of her gaze. My favorite element in this work is the use of color.


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