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    Mary Cassatt The Bath, 1892 Oil on Canvas, 39 x 26″ The Art Institute of Chicago Essay

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    Mary Cassatt’s masterpiece, The Bath, is a profound representation of a very tender and intimate moment shared between a mother and child; of nurturing care and innocent trust. Romanticizing maternity with purity and honesty, the artist depicts the mother engaged in the act of bathing her child in a white, purple rimmed basin. The two are seated on the floor with the child held in the lap of her mother. The picture’s elevated vantage point pitches forward the planes, allowing the viewer to observe, but not participate in, the scene, thereby adding force to the complete absorption of the mother with child, of their interlocking gestures, of their focus on each other and the task at hand May.

    The woman looks down toward the basin, in which she places the child’s right foot. Her gestures are fully natural and routine, but they also communicate her tender concern for the child’s well being. The child’s other foot rests nonchalantly in the basin. The child gazes downward intently, absorbed in the action of her mother, she is quiet and calm, assured in an embrace of maternal care and competence Getlein. The child wears a white towel, wrapped around her waste, beyond which she is naked. The solid patterning of the mother’s dress contrasts with the little girl’s vulnerable nudity. The wide stripes of the dress, in lavender, green, and white dominate the whole center area of the composition; playing against the little girl’s pastel body and standing out from the dimmer tones of the carpet below, wallpaper to the picture’s left, and the painted bureau behind Kleiner et al.

    The right arms of both figures and both the child’s chubby little legs are as straight as the lines in the mother’s dress Getlein. The mother holds the child firmly in her lap with her left hand; her arm curving behind the child, hidden from view, with only the hand visible at the child’s waist. The child reaches back wither her left arm, bolding her mother’s knee, as if simultaneously bracing herself, and pushing off forward into the water. The hands of both meet and are alike at the waist of one and the knee of the other Getlein.

    Both the mother and the child appear to the viewer in a state of complete absorption. The child’s downcast gaze conveys a sense intense curiosity and wonder as she watches her mother’s hand. The pair’s heads meet, reinforcing the sense of absorption; their hair together, the mother’s forehead touches that of the child and her chin touches her daughter’s shoulder. Rather than glance at each other, they gaze in the same direction, looking together at their paired reflection in the basin of water and the child’s small foot. Enveloped in a moment of mutual absorption, they appear to the viewer to exist as a single entity Getlein.

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    Mary Cassatt The Bath, 1892 Oil on Canvas, 39 x 26″ The Art Institute of Chicago Essay. (2018, May 07). Retrieved from

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