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The Boating Party

The Boating Party Description

The Boating Party , 1893–94

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

oil on canvas

35½ × 46 in

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC


This bold composition reveals the influence of the flat, patterned surfaces, simplified color blocks, and unusual angles of Japanese prints, which enjoyed a huge vogue in Paris in the late 1800s. The dark figure of the man compresses the picture onto the flat plane of the canvas, and the horizon is pushed to the top, flattening space in the distance. Our high vantage gives us an oblique, bird's-eye view into the boat. Its form is divided into decorative shapes by the intersection of its horizontal supports.

After 1893, Cassatt began to spend many summers on the Mediterranean coast at Antibes. Under its intense sun, she began to experiment with harder, more decorative color. Here, citron and blue carve strong arcs that divide the picture into assertive, almost abstract, shapes. This picture, with its bold geometry and decorative patterning of the surface, positions Mary Cassatt with such post-impressionist painters as Gauguin and Van Gogh.

This painting, one of her most ambitious, was the centerpiece of Cassatt's first solo exhibition in the United States, in 1895. Her contacts with wealthy friends in the United States did much to bring avant-garde French painting into this country.

Points for discussion:

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926

View the picture while you answer the questions.

1. Is the scene peaceful or stormy? ______________________________________________

2. What colors do you see? __________________________________________________

3. COOL COLORS are blue and green. WARM COLORS are red, yellow, and orange. Is this

painting done mainly in cool colors or warm colors? _______________________________

4. Is it a sunny or a cloudy day? ________________________________________________

5. How can you tell if it is sunny or cloudy? ________________________________________


6. What safety feature would you probably see if this painting showed a boat ride today?


7. Have you ever been in a boat? _______________ If you have, tell about your boat ride.

If you haven't, tell about a boat ride you would like to take. __________________________

  • What relationship or feeling do you see in each picture?
  • What information did the artists use to show us these relationships?
  • Discuss how the artists emphasized the people in their pictures.

The Boating Party


This is by far the most Japanese of her paintings- the flattening of the plane and simplification of color

The focus is on the rower? (no, the baby)

Huge piece—3ft x 4ft

Subject is unusual she usually painted in a garden or park

All the lines converge, from the surface of the painting- where we ourselves seem to be aboard the boat- to the mother and child; the curve of the boat’s side and that of the sail, the oar, and the arm of the boatman holding the oar.

Given the sail’s position, it Is fair to conclude that the boatman is rowing in the European method, pushing, rather than pulling as American rowers do.

Hangs in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

By severely cropping the boat at the bottom & at a right angle the viewer feels as though they are another passenger

Vivid colors and the suppression of shadows create the illusion of a bright summer day

The bright colors of the woman’s and child’s clothing set them apart from the black of the man’s

The texture of the water contrasts with the smooth surfaces of the boat

An 1890 exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints greatly affect Mary . She admired the simplicity, the boldness, the rich starkness, the flattened planes, the sharpened angles- she started making prints of her own

Broad flat planes of strong color reveals her continuing interest in Japanese woodblock prints

Dressed in muted tones, the mother and her squirming child strike a contrast with the dark silhouette of the boatman. The figures are united by the thick yellow brushstrokes of the boat as well as by a subtle exchange of glances.

The relationship between the figures is ambiguous.

The man at the oars wears the dark garments, broad cummerbund, and black beret associated with a fisherman. He might represent a hired boatman, but the subtle play of glances between him and his passengers suggests a more intimate relationship

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