One here can immediately see the flash of bright white which creates the neck to chest area of this young model, with additional touches of very light pink as decorative elements in her hair. There is also an expressive scratch of blue pastel right across the background which allows Cassatt to better separate the model's face from the natural colour of the paper, which in this case is a sort of light tanned brown. Cassatt provides some simple lines of black to lay out the girl's lower half but chooses not to fill any of it with colour, ensuring the entire focus remains on her face. Cassatt draws attention to her plump cheeks as the girl looks across to the left. Her hair is tidy and delicate, and she looks relatively comfortable in posing in this way. Cassatt would, of course, feature many young children within her paintings and drawings, normally prefering girls, and also often placing them alongside their mothers in sensitive double portraits.
The artist would make use of children within her extended family for a number of years before many grew up and became too old for her needs. At that point she would then start to hire models from elsewhere, particularly once she left Paris to live in the countryside. The girl captured here was known as Ellen Mary Cassatt and she was the daughter of the artist's brother. It is known that the artist and this child were close, as documented in letters sent between the family members over a number of years. Therefore, there is a personal and sensitive element to this portrait which would have helped someone who liked to work expressively. Interestingly, French actress Jane Renouardt would own this artwork for a period of years, and she was a famous name who was drawn to the feminine themes used by Cassatt.
Mary Cassatt was heavily inspired by Edgar Degas and the two would work in pastels throughout the 1890s. They appreciated the balance that it gave between drawing and colour, almost a halfway house between traditional sketching and oil painting. Degas is best known for classic paintings such as Ballet Class, Blue Dancers and Green Dancer but he was also highly skilled in pastels and in recent years there has been a growing focus on his work in that medium, just as there has been with Cassatt. Exhibitions for example have been more rounded and comprehensive about an artist's work, attempting to allow visitors to truly understand the full breadth of oeuvre, rather than merely selecting some of their most famous paintings - as the public become more and more educated around the careers of these great names, so curators need to be imaginative in how they put together these different shows.