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Painting “Louise Nursing Her Baby” by Mary Cassatt

Painting "Louise Nursing Her Baby" by Mary Cassatt

The happy, well-nourished mother in the Mary Cassatt painting entitled Louise Nursing her Baby is a New York-born socialite who became a suffragette, and, with her husband, an art patron.1

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As a wealthy mother in the 1880s2, her apparently joyful choice to nurse her own glowing toddler reflects serious-mindedness3. Doubtless, she had a housekeeper and a staff of servants in her 3 story brownstone on 5th Avenue. Any dish4, and a seasonal wardrobe of custom clothes were hers. She patronized the opera, orchestra, and hosted in-home concerts.

Her baby nurse brought her the little one, and then handled changing and bathing5. Her maid assisted with bathing, dressing, and her hair6. She eschewed serious jewels for breakfast, but wore a corset7 under a full-length gown.

After breakfast, she consulted with her housekeeper on menus, schedules, and personnel issues. She then worked on her correspondence: condolences, congratulation, requests for charity, or communications with other suffrage-minded women. She practiced her own drawing daily.

As a woman, the only time when she could entertain without a male chaperone would be at lunchtime8. She made a daily afternoon drive, constitutional, or gallery visit followed by tea, and was at home once a week.

Dinner was late and elaborate and usually included several guests. After dinner the gentlemen smoked and drank around the table, while Louise took the ladies to her drawing room for conversation. Later, cards, charades, or a performance by a guest or professional whiled the evening away. Afterwards, she retired to separate beds.

Despite this luxury, she was lucky to have a flush toilet9. Without disposable sanitary napkins, she was confined every month. She had limited family planning options10, and childbirth infections were fatal without antibiotics. She could not vote. No wonder she was a women’s rights activist!

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Works Cited

Cassatt, Mary. Louise Nursing her Baby. Fondation Rau pour le Tiers Monde, Zurich. Pastel on paper. 2013.

Goldsworthy’s work reminds the viewer that the difference between the artist/inventor touched with genius, and, on the other hand, the rest of the world is that these gifted folks can look at a problem, a vista, or a material, and create something entirely new, yet inevitable.

For Goldsworthy, mere leaves, twigs, rocks, ice and snow- literally household discards – become the substrate for serene and evocative structures and assemblages. His work is both entirely congruent with nature, and simultaneously dramatic.

Working since the 1970s, he has focused notably (although not exclusively) on the dome, in all its versions and varieties, as well as towers. These are two basic shapes for human structures throughout history, perhaps even originally arising from the shapes of human body parts that they resemble.

He has generated domes oriented conventionally in slate, among many other materials, and domes of sewn leaves, woven twigs and even carved ice, oriented vertically, as, for example in Snow Circles . His towers often consist of exquisitely balanced rocks.
He uses leaves and their subtle, evanescent differences in color as his palette for basic shapes in two or three dimensions, for example in Oak leaves in holls. This seems like child’s play, but it must be exceedingly time-consuming, and it requires a great deal of skill to attach slippery leaves to each other and to the ground.

The results of his care and skill are instantly perceptible as being man-made, but they also fit into their surroundings unobtrusively. Those that are made of stone suggest a provenance of great antiquity.

The ones made of ephemeral materials such as snow, or stones sinking in the surf fool the eye into thinking that they are more permanent than they actually are. All of them are a pleasure to gaze at, with graceful symmetry and proportions that would be familiar to the ancients.

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Goldsworthy, Andy. Andrew Goldsworthy home page. 2013. Web.

Metropolitan Museum. Andy Goldsworthy:On the Roof. 2004. Web. Andy Goldsworthy: Artist-Naturalist: “Snow Circles”. 2013. Web.

National Gallery of Art. Andy Goldsworthy: Roof. 2004. Web.


  1. Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer attended a Parisian boarding school, and thereby met the artist, Mary Cassatt. At age 28 she was married in 1883 to Henry Osborne Havemeyer, who was of German extraction and inherited his family’s sugar refining business (and had been married to her aunt). Louise took advantage of her position to travel from New York to Europe at least 33 times, and befriended Impressionist artists. She spent some of his fortune on vital support for Cassatt and other Impressionists at critical moments in their careers and in the development of that movement in art. The result of the collecting efforts of both of them was a massive trove of treasures, subsequently left to several museums.
  2. Her child-bearing dated to at least 10 years earlier than the 1898 date given for this work, so it is possible that this was finished long after Cassatt did sketches and studies of her friend.
  3. She would have had the option of nursing her children herself, or hiring a wet nurse to do the honors. Although, in this time period when infant formula was not really an option, a wet nurse could mean the difference between life and death for a baby, this was not always the reason for calling one in. Healthy, privileged mothers, unfortunately, hired wet nurses to absolve themselves of a baby’s demand on both body and time. Less advantaged mothers might not have had the resources to pay for such services.
  4. Many vegetables and fruits would have been available only if grown under glass because refrigeration was largely unavailable. Ice was cut from frozen lakes in winter and stored in ice houses, and delivered via horse drawn cart to individual houses.
  5. The child would have had a nurse, a governess, and perhaps a tutor if educated at home.
  6. Probably in a zinc-lined tub filled from a pitcher of hot water by the servant.
  7. She also wore petticoats, and petti-pants that were not sewn together up the inside of the leg. Underpants such as are known today were not worn except by early feminists such as adherents of Amelia Bloomer. Thus, if she fell down, her female parts would be fully visible.
  8. The household would have had a special set of silver and china exclusively for lunch service.
  9. Flush toilets were not required until 1901 in Manhattan, and most households had an outhouse and thunder mugs for inside use. These crockery pots were emptied daily by the staff of servants. Each room had a pitcher and large bowl, and hopefully, a large square of some sort of water-proof fabric (linoleum, for example) to lay on the floor, for hand and face washing and sponge baths.
  10.  Separate beds gave her some control, and condoms were sort of available but not respectable. Husbands might choose non-standard sexual practices to avoid impregnation.

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