WOMEN TAKE THE REINS!
In celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment 94 years ago today, we celebrate female painters like Mary Cassatt who struggled for recognition and women’s rights in a male-dominated world, leading the fight for women’s suffrage and social enfranchisement.
“Woman and Child Driving”,1881, Mary Cassatt
In Mary Cassatt’s Woman and Child Driving, Cassatt puts a woman—her sister Lydia—in the driver’s seat. Gloved hands grasping the reigns, Lydia is in firm command of both buggy and painting. Cassatt’s restrained composition, however, betrays the real life restrictions that unmarried women like Cassatt and her sister often faced. Despite Cassatt’s trailblazing success as a woman artist of renown in both Europe and the United States, she was still subject to the same strictures faced by middle and upper class women of the day, whose access to Paris’s public parks and boulevards, such as the Bois de Boulogne, shown here, was often restricted by the rules of propriety. Cassatt’s Bois de Boulogne is not the wide open public space so often shown by male artists of the period, but rather a close-cropped and seemingly impenetrable mass of dense foliage to which the viewer is largely denied access. Lydia’s clear sense of self-possession and determined expression do battle with this tangled backdrop, evoking Cassatt’s own struggle to gain recognition and acceptance within a male-dominated art world to which she was often denied access, as well as the larger struggle for women’s rights in the decades leading up to women’s suffrage and increasing political and social enfranchisement.
–Katie Pfohl, Barra Foundation Fellow in American Art