Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman is the extensive, beautifully produced, coffee-table-size catalog of an exhibition of the same name at the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 1998. It is filled with 100 color plates and scores of other pictures, including Cassatt family snapshots, images of works by Cassatt's teachers and influential associates, postcards, and other related personal and historical items. Included too are six essays, on topics ranging from Cassatt's "modern education" to her intelligent guidance of the wealthy American art-lovers who later bequeathed their impressive impressionist collections to several major United States museums. While each has much to offer, Kevin Sharp's essay "How Mary Cassatt Became an American Artist" is particularly interesting and has great narrative flair. The sections on Cassatt's alternately infuriating and gratifying relationship with the legendary Paris dealer Paul Durand-Ruel are page-turners.
Readers who are mostly lookers, and who intend to spend their time with the large color plates, will also be amply rewarded. These do full justice to Cassatt's draftsmanship, color, and design, while reaffirming her as the warmly empathetic, but thoroughly unsentimental, observer of young mothers and their plump, beloved babies. The book has but one tiny defect, which will irritate only the most casual readers: its captions for the most part give only minimally identifying information for the people, paintings, and places pictured. When the plates and illustrations are not adjacent to the germane parts of the text, readers must peruse the essays in order to understand their significance. --Peggy Moorman