the painting of Mary Cassatt
I am delving, once again, into ekphrastic poetry. I was quite intrigued to learn that the famous painter Mary Cassatt and I share an ancestor: Jacques Cossart who arrived in America in 1662, settling with his family in New Amsterdam, now New York City.
The young mother sits in a chair
strangely intent on her stitching fingers
as her young daughter,
perched across her lap,
stares idly at the artist.
The silence of the scene
mimics the silence of the canvas,
the thread pulling through the cloth making no sound.
Mary Cassatt, a grand dame of Impressionism,
who never bore a child of her own,
was obsessed with painting mothers and daughters,
reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance Madonnas
she had seen on European travels as a young girl.
She vowed early never to marry,
to devote her life to art, only art.
Even when her father refused to buy her art supplies,
refused to support the lifestyle of an artist.
Her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts
had exposed her to feminist ideas, to bohemian behavior,
unacceptable for a young lady of her social class,
for this daughter raised by a religiously conservative father,
a descendant of a prim French Huguenot,
an early settler in the American colonies.
But this independent daughter was also
raised by a well-educated, well-read mother.
art trumped fidelity to her father.
Impressionistic art, under the tutelage of Degas himself,
enveloped her in its simple strokes of vibrant color.
Thus this Young Mother Sewing, with her wide-eyed child.
But the strictures of her father still inhibit her, still inhabit her,
still remind her of a female’s place in the social structure,
for the painted woman keeps her back to the window
where a mysterious painted forest beckons.
She does not listen to its silent siren call.
She will stay put in her quaint domesticity
painted to stay.