Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

Book - 2001
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Random House, Inc.
Harriet Scott Chessman takes us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings through Mary's sister Lydia, whom the author sees as Cassatt’s most inspiring muse. Chessman hauntingly brings to life Paris in 1880, with its thriving art world. The novel’s subtle power rises out of a sustained inquiry into art’s relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality. Ill with Bright’s disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world narrowing. With the rising emotional tension between the loving sisters, between one who sees and one who is seen, Lydia asks moving questions about love and art’s capacity to remember. Chessman illuminates Cassatt’s brilliant paintings and creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper includes five full-color plates, the entire group of paintings Mary Cassatt made of her sister.

Baker & Taylor
The life of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt is skillfully fictionalized in this powerful novel about art and passion, narrated by the artist's sister, Lydia.

Blackwell North Amer
The story is told in the absorbing and lyrical voice of Mary Cassatt's sister Lydia, as she poses for five of her sister's most unusual paintings (reproduced in this edition). Ill with Bright's disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world with courage, openness, and passion. As she addresses and comes to accept her own position as her sister's model, she asks stirring questions about love and art's capacity to remember.

Publisher: New York : Permanent Press & Seven Stories Press, 2001
Edition: A Permanent PressSeven Stories Press 1st ed
ISBN: 9781583222720
Branch Call Number: F CHE
Characteristics: xi, 164 p. ; 19 cm


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Cdnbookworm May 14, 2014

I picked this book up from one of my to-be-read piles as a nice slim novel to slip into my purse. I started it just after finishing the book Painted Girls and was interested to see Degas reappear as a character here. Chessman brings us into the life of the American painter Mary Cassatt, who lived in Paris for much of her professional life. She does this through the eyes of Lydia, Mary's older sister.
Lydia suffered from Bright's disease and had more regular flare-ups of debilitation during her last couple of years. Not very much is known historically about Lydia, who never married, and while Chessman used biographical information of Mary Cassatt and her family, knowledge of the lives of people of this wealth bracket living in Paris at this time, and family letters to frame her story, she also added elements to flesh out Lydia's character.
The book is framed around five portraits of Lydia by Mary, and each portrait has its own chapter here which includes a full colour reproduction of the painting in question. We see the relationship between the two sisters, Mary's involvement in the artistic and cultural life of Paris, including her close relationship with Degas, the Cassatt family life, and the creation of these wonderful paintings.
The first, the cover painting, Lydia Reading the Morning Paper, was created in Cassatt's studio in Paris in 1878-1879, and this chapter introduces us to the characters, Lydia's illness, and Cassatt's world.
The second, The Cup of Tea, was also created in Mary's studio in Paris, this time in 1880-1881, gives us further insight into the sisters' relationship.
The third, Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly, was created at the Cassatt country house in the summer of 1880. This gives us a glimpse of life in the country, the activities the family did while they were there and the visitors they had.
The fourth, Woman and Child Driving, was again an open air setting, this time in Paris and with additional subjects. The child is Degas' niece, Odile, and the man is a Cassatt family servant.
The last, Lydia Seated at an Embroidery Frame, was done in the Cassatt home in Paris in 1881, and shows another common pastime for women.
What the novel gives us is a closer look at these particular artworks, and some interpretation of them, as well as a look into the relationship between the model and the artist.
A lovely novel with a unique structure and subject.


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