February 10, 2021

Cassatt Masterpiece Joins PU Art Museum Collections 

“LITTLE GIRL IN A LARGE RED HAT”: This Impressionist painting by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) is now part of the Princeton University Art Museum’s collections, which include a pastel masterpiece and ten drawings and prints by the artist.

The Princeton University Art Museum has acquired Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Large Red Hat (ca. 1881), an insightful portrayal of young girlhood and a masterpiece of Impressionist painting. Dating from the early peak of Cassatt’s career, as she fully assimilated the Impressionist style that informed her strongest work, the canvas is distinguished by its painterly characterization, depicting the artist’s signature subject of a young girl with both compellingly revealed technique and psychological complexity. 

“A work such as this one, which comes from the final years when the artist was exhibiting with the Impressionists in Paris, not only tells us so much about process and technique but also allows us to engage with important questions about how a woman artist made her way in the patriarchal art world of the time,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director. “This extraordinary painting will be able to move fluidly among galleries devoted to European or American art as part of the new Museum we are in the process of shaping.”

Born near Pittsburgh in 1844, Cassatt lived and worked primarily in France. She was one of the few women artists invited to join the Impressionist exhibitions and focused on portrayals of women and children in domestic settings.

Little Girl in a Large Red Hat was likely painted in Paris or its immediate environs, where Cassatt spent the summers of 1880 through 1882. The sophisticated image incorporates an engaging tension between the finished head and brushier body and background, an emerging hallmark of the artist’s work. Cassatt was a strong supporter of women’s rights, and the subject of this portrait conveys her interest and belief in an individual girl’s depth, agency, and potential. It was hailed in 1998 by the art historian Griselda Pollock as one of a series of powerful confrontations between the artist and the subject of the young girl.

The work is the first painting by Cassatt to enter the Museum’s collections, which include a pastel masterpiece and ten drawings and prints by the artist.

Princeton holds one of the most extensive collections of historical American art of any university museum. Additions to the collections, acquired in part through an endowed fund dedicated to the purchase of American art, have recently included notable works by African American and
Native American artists and modernist, still life, landscape, portrait, and genre paintings as well as works of decorative art. 

Visit the Museum’s website at artmuseum.princeton.edu for digital access to the collections, a diverse portfolio of virtual programs, and updates on opportunities to visit in person.