Mary Cassatt, "The Long Gloves," 1889, pastel on paper, 25 1/2x 21 in, Private Collection

Delighting in ‘The Long Gloves’ by Mary Cassatt

Big question….what post to offer just before the Christmas holidays? Something wintery? Nah, don’t need to be reminded of that at the moment. (Mind you, the Winter Solstice has just passed and we are now heading into lighter days again. Yay!!) And then I remembered a painting that I’d seen posted somewhere recently that I think is marvellous. It’s by Mary Cassatt and it’s called The Long Gloves: I’m both fascinated and also a bit puzzled by it. I thought it would be a lovely piece to share with you.

The Long Gloves

This painting is listed as being in a Private Collection. When it’s not in a gallery, it’s difficult to come by factual and accurate information. And you know how I love those details. So I went hunting around a bit online. What I did come across was an exhibition catalogue from a show in 1970 at the National Gallery in Washington, DC that included the pastel  work. The lender is listed as Mrs. Percy C. Madeira, Jr., of Berwyn, Pennsylvania. It gives the title as The Long Gloves, the date, and the size. I don’t know whether it still belongs to the same family but at least we have the beginning of a provenance with this information.

There is no other info in the catalogue about this piece except to mention that like the pastels, Woman Arranging Her Veil and The Bonnet, “Cassatt developed the head and arms and let the rest taper off in an arabesque form.”

So let’s have a look at the piece!

Mary Cassatt, "The Long Gloves," 1889, pastel on paper, 25 1/2x 21 in, Private Collection
Mary Cassatt, “The Long Gloves,” 1889, pastel on paper, 25 1/2x 21 in, Private Collection

Let me list the many things I love about this pastel:

– First, I always thrill to see the hand of the artist, and in any unfinished piece you are bound to see signs. Here you have the first marks on paper drawing the figure. You can see where the lines were rearranged for a different outcome eg. along the right side of the painting you can see the left forearm redrawn.

– I love the intense gaze of the young woman in her intimate moment of adjusting the long gloves.

– Look at how beautifully that face is rendered, with a perfect perspective. The impression of what the young woman looks like is clear in the nose, the mouth..

– I like the way the red of her hair is repeated in her rosebud mouth with hints of the red pastel touched in other places (can you spot them?)

– Cassatt signed the piece so it is evidently complete as is. What’s not clear is whether it was in preparation for another piece or a study done for its own sake. Clear though is the emphasis on the head and the arms and their relation to each other.

– You can see Cassatt’s use of white pastel to lighten colour in places, for instance, around the chin and the neck. You can see the way it was used to indicate the sheen of the fabric along the right forearm.

– There is such an energy and boldness in the strokes surrounding both arms. The intent seems to be to use the negative to accentuate the positive shape of the arm. The pastel has been layered on with such pressure that there is pure pigment with no sign of the paper coming through.

– You can see the spontaneity in the strokes that move towards the left side of the paper away from the arm and also in those revealing the hint of the dress. You can imagine Cassatt creating those strokes!

– I love the way the blue of the arm/glove moves into the background behind the left arm. The flesh colour of the arm remains visible under the blue stroked over it. It is this blue hatching on the arms that seems to suggest that Cassatt was studying the form of the arms but was going to eventually cover the arms with gloves.

– And who is this young woman wearing gloves?  Interestingly, I looked through many many paintings by Cassatt and could not find any showing a woman with long gloves. Any paintings of women wearing gloves showed shorter versions, ones that came up to just below the elbow i.e. only on the forearm. Long gloves would  probably have been for the most formal of occasions.

– You can see that Cassatt first indicated the body – the arms, the fingers, before barely indicating gloves and here’s where I am puzzled. Look closely at the hand of the right arm, fingers around the left upper arm. It looks like they may be adjusting the gloves. But it’s difficult to make out the actual fingers. Is her thumb on top of the arm and fingers below or is it the opposite way around? If it’s thumb on top, is it foreshortened? If fingers above, are they hidden under the sleeve of the dress? What do you think? It’s here where you really do get the sense of gloves as the articulation of fingers (as seen in the raised left arm) is absent. And in other places you might wonder if there are any gloves there at all!

Mary Cassatt, "The Long Gloves," 1889, pastel on paper, 25 1/2 x 21 in, Private Collection -detail
Mary Cassatt, “The Long Gloves,” 1889, pastel on paper, 25 1/2 x 21 in, Private Collection -detail

And To All A Good Night!

Wishing you a Christmas holiday filled with wonder, and with love and laughter be it with family, friends, and even the peace that comes from being on your own.

It’s a time to reflect on the year that’s gone and to ponder the year to come. That’s what I’ll be doing before the New Year. And in case I don’t get back to the blog before the beginning of 2016, I wish you every good thing in the coming year.

Thank you so much for keeping me company on the pastel journey!!

Until next time!

~ Gail

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14 thoughts on “Delighting in ‘The Long Gloves’ by Mary Cassatt”

  1. I just saw this most recent post and though I am busy with Christmas preparations I decided to take a break and read this wonderful post. Thank you Gail for giving me this special moment to look at the beautiful marks made by Mary Cassatt and read your comments. What nice Christmas gift from you. I feel blessed. Enjoy your Christmas!

  2. Thanks, Gail. I love Cassatt’s work and had never seen this painting.

    My first thought on looking at it was the strong influence Degas had on her work. If not for the face, I could have believed it was a painting of his, but I don’t recall any of his paintings where the face was so lovely, except maybe The Laundress.

    My second thought was that it is incomplete. When I looked and saw her signature, I was surprised. I don’t see gloves at all. Look below the right shoulder: I see the short sleeve of the dress flaring out over her blueish arm. I suppose the glove could have extended under the dress, but it doesn’t look like that to me. Again, I’m reminded of Degas and the colors he used to depict skin tones.

    The indistinct area of the hand clasping her upper left arm would be understandable as a not yet defined area in an incomplete painting where the only finished part is her head and face. I can imagine her signing this incomplete work to claim it as her own if it was going to be viewed with other quick works from other artists. Do you know if that is a scenario that might have been possible? Did Degas work with her and others at the same time?

    Warm wishes for a happy Christmas and New Year to come.


    1. Jean, like you I worked hard to see the gloves (one of the reasons I went looking for other images done by Cassatt of women in long gloves rather the ones that just come to below the elbows). It’s difficult to know if the signing was done to say yes, it’s finished or, as you suggest, to claim it as her own. Certainly a possibility as she was coming into her own by then and any work would have value. So many mysteries and puzzles!
      Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Not only delighting in the painting, but also in your observations. Oh that everyone would study the painting with such perception. Thank you. And, oh yes, Happy Holidays. Duane

    1. Duane, what a treat to come home from Christmas with my family to your lovely comments. They mean A LOT to me!!

      I hope your holidays have been happy and gentle.

  4. Gail,
    I look forward to your art appreciation blogs……and your monthly selection of great pastels ! I really like the way you engage us….make us think and study the work for ourselves.
    I hope to emulate your daily sketching activity as a new year resolution…..you have inspired me to give it a try….

    1. Wendy, I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog especially the ones that make you think! I hadn’t thought of them that way so it’s good to hear your perspective.

      Good for you taking on the daily sketching commitment. It’s really tough some days but oh so satisfying!! So you go for it! (And don’t give yourself a hard time if you miss one. Just keep plugging away and it will happen.)

  5. Thank you for taking me along on this journey. Although I enjoy art, I’m largely uneducated when it comes to art appreciation and art history. I look forward to learning more and getting more exposure to other artists through your blog.

    My own thoughts on this particular painting were that it is unfinished, or perhaps a working sketch for another piece. It’s still lovely but I don’t see gloves, I see her in a short sleeved dress possibly even with rolled sleveves, as seen on her right arm. And it appears to me as if that right arm is fingers up where it meets the left arm, with the fingers disappearing under the sleeve of the dress.

    Thank you for opening my eyes and making me really LOOK at it 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Jayne! And thank you for looking so closely at the piece as this is what it’s all about!

      I too see this as a study (although it’s so gorgeous in its own right). I struggled with the whole gloves idea at first but it is titled “The Long Gloves” and so I started there. I think the blue pastel hatched across her arms is the indication of something over them i.e. gloves. You can also see the addition of white which gives a sheen suggesting fabric rather than skin. I believe Cassatt was figuring out the anatomy of the figure hence little indication of the gloves themselves. I agree with you that her hand is likely ‘fingers up’ with fingers hidden under the short sleeve. Love that you noticed the possibility of a rolled (or cuffed) sleeve!

      Here’s to more SEEING 🙂

  6. Re; the gloves.Looking at the shape of the hand tells me the thumb is under her arm.And as far as any gloves at all,I think you’re right,I don’t see any.Maybe this girl is preparing to put the long gloves on, by pushing the sleeve of her dress up.

    1. Ed, it’s just so hard to tell what is actually happening. But for sure, there is that feeling of pushing up her sleeve (and perhaps pushing up a glove). Thanks for adding your thoughts to this post!!

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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