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Mary Cassatt, "Looking into the Hand Mirror No. 2", dry point on paper, ca 1905.  Private Collection.

Mary Cassatt, “Looking into the Hand Mirror No. 2”, dry point on paper, ca 1905. Private Collection.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was the only American invited to show work in the now celebrated Impressionist exhibitions in Paris.  “I accepted with joy,” she recalled, “I took leave of conventional art.  I began to live.”  Yet, in spite of her avant-garde outlook, throughout her career, Cassatt often returned to a subject that had long been the domain of the handful of distinguished women artists before her: mothers and children in a domestic setting.

This print is one of a series executed at the opening of the twentieth century, late in Cassatt’s career.  In it, a mother holds a young girl, perhaps two or three years old, on her lap as the child gazes at her reflection in a hand mirror.  It’s a simple composition of an everyday theme that somehow manages to convey a deep sense of meaning in spite of gentle handling: both a window into a moment of quotidian life and an intimation of dawning self-awareness and feminine passage.  The mother’s gaze is also directed at the mirror, but it is unclear whether she contemplates her own image or her daughter’s.

“There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one or the narrow and hard one.” Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

“There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one or the narrow and hard one.” Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Cassatt did several variations on this image but this one is notable for being closely related to a finished oil painting executed around the same time (circa 1905) which now resides in the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  Strip away the painting’s bright colors and almost belabored composition of mirror-in-mirror-in-mirror, and one easily recognizes that print and painting are essentially mirror images.

Mary Cassatt, "Mother and Child," oil on canvas, ca. 1905. Coll. National Gallery of Art (Washington DC)

Mary Cassatt, “Mother and Child,” oil on canvas, ca. 1905. Coll. National Gallery of Art (Washington DC)

The etching in question is known to have been acquired in 1965 and passed by descent to the present owner.  Adding to the provenance is a pair of labels affixed to the back:

Mother and Child Looking into a Mirror.  Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Original Etching. $120” Provenance: Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art.  Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was probably the most famous American artist of her day, having been first a student of Renoir and Degas and then exhibiting with them and other post-impressionists as well as in her own right.  Her work is world famous.  It bears clear affinities with her contemporaries but has a firmness and tenderness which gives it a character of its own.  Less and less of it is available each year and we are very pleased to have found this beautiful example.   PE 35710 

Alongside this is the characteristic blue-and-white gallery label of the Vincent Price Collection (which readers of this blog will know well by now).  This solid provenance, coupled with good condition (no tears or stains, and little foxing or other condition problems that commonly mar works on paper), are all in the item’s favor as far as value goes.

Working against it is a steady decline in comparable sales over the past two years.  Since 2010 at least three of these etchimgs have sold on the open market, the earliest bringing $1,400 and the most recent a mere $650.  It is not clear whether these prints were struck during the artist’s lifetime or posthumously; but in the absence of other data, we have to give them equal weight.  This present print appears to be more desirable in terms of condition and provenance, but given these declining values, it would be difficult to fix a fair market value of more than $1,100 at the present time.

So what’s it worth? I’d say about $1,100 FMV or an insurance replacement value of around $2,000 with a strong recommendation to reassess in about two years.  This market is volatile and a valuation is only good if it’s current.

Note: the above is an essay on Cassatt and the valuation process.  It is made solely for the reader’s general information.  It is not an appraisal of the fair market value of the work as that term is used in the Internal Revenue Code.  

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