Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Yeah, I know It's early, but it is after Halloween and Thanksgiving is just around the corner so it's not too early to at least start thinking about what to buy...or what you might like others to buy for you. That being the case, it might be wise to drop by the Adelson Gallery on the third floor of the Mark Hotel at 25 East 77th Street in New York City. Or if you're in the Southwest, try the Meredith Long Gallery in Houston. At either place, for a mere $5,000 to $10,000 you can pick up a piece of art history. If you can afford to drop around half a mil, you can get a proportionally bigger chunk. The lesser amount will buy you a genuine, authentic, certified, authorised, hand-etched, hand-pulled black and white print by Mary Cassatt. Or perhaps a drawing for a bit less. On the high end, you can cop one of 41 full colour prints, perhaps something from the famed Set of Ten, maybe even an experimental proof (one of 17) of The fitting.
Warren Adelson, owner of the Adelson Gallery, refers to the treasure trove of some two-hundred Cassatt studio prints as having been "found," though in fact, they were never really lost. Sometime during the first decade of the 1900s, hotshot Parisian art dealer, Ambroise Vollard coaxed Miss Cassatt into selling him the whole lot of her personal, or "studio," collection of prints which she had kept back either for personal or archival reasons up until that time. When the sale occurred, Mary Cassatt, may have thought she was nearing the end of her career, though in fact she lived on until 1926. She was by no means famous in any art world at the time though her paintings had been around and sold modestly well since the halcyon days of the Impressionist shows twenty years earlier. In the meantime, unlike her impressionist friends, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, and Manet, who had merely dabbled from time to time in printmaking, Cassatt had adopted this trial and error, etch-print-etch-reprint-handcolour-reprint artform as her primary means of artistic expression. The collection now being sold off piece by piece reflects that.
Hoping that Cassatt's star (as well as her prices) was on the rise, or perhaps having merely put them away and forgot about them, for whatever reason Vollard inexplicably "sat" on this portfolio of her work. WW I intervened with its total chaos in the art world, then in 1939, just before the next war, Vollard was killed in an auto accident. His estate sold the prints to an unnamed French collector who, like Vollard, stashed the cache of artwork away for safekeeping, even as Cassatt's reputation was rising in the art world both in France and abroad. The only ones to see them were a few close friends, among them collector, Marc Rosen, and his eventual wife, Susan Pinsky, both print experts. For twenty years, Rosen tried to persuade the collector to sell him the Cassatt prints. But it once more took the intervention of death before the prints again changed hands. This time, the deceased's heirs agreed, not to sell Rosen the work, but let him handle their sale in the US.
And that's where you come in...if you're so inclined. The prints are mostly 13"x17" on 17"x20" paper and in pristine condition, having never been exhibited or even seen the light of day for close to ninety years. Of them, the seventeen different experimental versions of The Fitting are probably the most interesting (and of course the most expensive). Through them, you can trace, step by step, Cassatt's development of the image from preparatory drawings through line refinements, colour, texture, and tone to the final artist's proof. A similar development can be seen in other works such as Gathering Fruit and The Banjo Lesson. Or if your tastes and pocketbook run toward reproductions, there is always the catalogue, Mary Cassatt: Prints and Drawings from the Artist's Studio available for a modest $35. It weighs a bit more than a print, but it does contain all 200 of them, and I'm sure Santa won't mind all that much.