As I find my pose, I think about how, when I first met Degas, he gave me the impression of an intelligent but fierce dog…
     And yet, something else emerged as he asked me questions. ‘Had I begun to feel better?,’ he asked, and ‘What was I reading?’ When I told him, ‘Jane Austen,’ he looked curious. ‘Ah, lequel?’ ‘Persuasion,’ I said, and then, surprisingly, his eyes lit on mine. A feeling connected us, quickly and with an absorbing depth.” (pp. 16-17)

I have just finished Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman. It is a small book, but I read slowly … to savor it.

It is a book I bought (used) some years ago (published date is 2001) after having read a library copy. It tells the compelling story of Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia, through Lydia’s words and strung out in scenes centering on her modeling for several of Mary’s paintings. One of the paintings lends it name to the book: Lydia is shown reclining in a green chair, reading the newspaper. But this quiet little story has great depth. Lydia (like Austen one might be tempted to say) faces her past, her present, and the shortness of her future – for the action begins in September 1878, ends in June 1881, and Lydia died (of Bright’s disease) in November 1882. So it confronts death, sisterly-affection, sibling-rivalry, lovers lost and gained. An exquisite book.

It is particularly a propos at this moment, for the Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT) is hosting a Cassatt exhibition. Entitled “Mary Cassatt: Friends and Family,” the retrospective offers more than 60 works, gathered together from many sources. The guest curator is Cassatt ‘authority’, Dr. Nancy Mowll-Mathews. Highly recommended, and on until 26 October 2008.

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