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Mary Cassatt (1844–1926)

Thomas Koepsell, MD, MPH
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(4):314. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.4.314.
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The picture on this month’s cover is about a bond between 2 lives—those of a young mother and the child at her breast. But the story of the picture itself involves the intertwining of 2 other lives—those of Mary Cassatt, who created it, and Gustav Rau, who came to own it.

Born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family, Mary Cassatt was an independent woman who spent most of her adult life abroad in France, pursuing her dream of a career in art. After moving to Paris in 1866 and receiving classical training, she joined the rebel group of Impressionists and exhibited works in several of their public shows until the group disbanded in 1886. She brought a feminine side to Impressionism through her sensitive portrayals of women and children, even though she herself never married or had children of her own. The mother in this picture is her friend and frequent model, Louise Fissier de Fresnaux, shown in a natural moment of intimacy with her young child.

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Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), Louise Breastfeeding Her Child (1899). Pastel on brown paper, 72.4 × 53.4 cm. RAU Collection–UNICEF Foundation, Cologne. © Peter Schälchli–sVo Art, Versailles, 2005.

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