Coastal Art Masterpiece: "The Boating Party" by Mary Cassatt

Long considered a masterpiece of coastal art is The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt. The trail-blazing American impressionist artist painted this nautical artwork in 1881. In this painting, Cassatt draws the viewer in with her depiction of a woman, baby and man sailing a small boat. Cassatt captures the light and color of an idyllic summer day on the French Riviera.

Cassatt's Mature Period

Cassatt painted The Boating Party during her mature period. During this time, she used strong colors and bold, geometric compositions. The boat has a canoe stern, is boomless, and has three thwarts. The inside of the boat is a vibrant, yet cool yellow.

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt

Coastal Art Themes

Images of figures rowing or sailing are a common motif in impressionist coastal artworks. As a result, it is no surprise that Cassatt would take on these themes in her paintings. However, there is something uniquely compelling about Cassatt's imagery in The Boating Party. In this seascape, we can see Cassatt’s ability to depict the lives of Victorian women with a strong sense of honesty.

Although Cassatt never had children of her own, her status as an upper-middle-class Victorian woman meant that she was very familiar with private moments between mothers and their children.

As a result of her life experience, Cassatt is able to depict the mother as a person who has agency. She is engaged. She is comfortably leaning against the bulwarks and appears to be in harmony with the motion of the boat.

Cassatt paints the child with movement. The infant in this nautical art looks to be watching the water go by and attempting to wriggle out of her mother’s arms -- just as a baby would do in real life. 

Influence of Japanese Woodblock Prints

During the late 19th century, Japanese woodblock prints became popular in France. As a result, they strongly influenced Cassatt’s technique, as is exhibited in The Boating Party. She borrowed some of the stylings of ukiyo-e printmaking, such as flat color, dynamic cropping, and higher vantage points. If you look closely at this painting, you will see that Cassatt placed the horizon at the top of the frame in Japanese fashion.

Because it is widely recognized as one of the finest examples of impressionist nautical painting, The Boating Party is now considered one of Cassatt's most iconic works  If you are inspired to see the original painting, it is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.


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