Mary Cassatt Show at Boca Museum Not the Next Best Thing

As much as it might delight some graduate art student researching a thesis on the finer points of this American impressionist, I can't imagine that "Mary Cassatt: Works on Paper" would be of much interest to anyone else.

This small show of 40 or so works, now at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, is nothing if not highly specialized. It includes etchings, aquatints, and pencil drawings, many at various stages of completion, lending the exhibition a tentative quality. The subject matter, not surprisingly, is Cassatt's usual: the world of women and children. The show's greatest emphasis is on a suite of ten counterproofs from 1892 to 1905. Even after reading the wall text, I'm still unsure what this exotic medium is, so I'll quote from the catalog: "A counterproof is created by placing a moistened sheet of blank paper over a pastel and applying pressure, usually by running the two papers through a printing press. The pressure causes a reversed image of the pastel to be transferred to the blank sheet." In other words, not only is the image reversed but it is once removed from the original. All of which begs the question: Why? Why not just cut out the middleman, so to speak, and look at the original pastel instead of a wispy, weirdly ghostly copy of it — in reverse!

The thinking goes that if we can't have an exhibition of original works by Cassatt, this little anthology is the next best thing. Much preferable would be original Cassatt pastels than a whole gallery full of these second-generation knockoffs.

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Michael Mills