Her small dog, likewise, has adopted position in a neighbouring chair, although the pet's posture is one more of patience and loyalty than desire to be running and jumping about – the very thing, perhaps, that drew the grown-up censure down upon the child's head! Mary Cassatt had a wonderful eye for moments such as the one captured in this painting: Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, and this painting is feted for its sympathetic treatment of the subject as well as for the technical skills with which it was rendered. Edgar Degas, Cassatt's dear friend and introducer into the new and exciting world of the Impressionist Movement, aided her with the painting, providing both the subject and practical help with the painting itself. He is believed to have worked on the odd shape created by the space of the carpet between the chairs, and his influence can be seen in the asymmetrical composition and the patterning of the chairs.
The little girl is lying back on the chair: but her pose is not relaxed and casual, nor – as some have whispered in horror – is it in the least bit sexual. Rather, while the pose might be very superficially reminiscent of sensually reclined women, brief examination of the little girl's tension and facial expression makes it clear that she is, or very shortly was, in the grip of a tightly repressed tantrum. Anyone who has seen a child in the grip of strong emotions will recognise the way they can fling themselves about with no regard for injury to themselves or destruction of property and it quickly becomes clear that she is being impelled to be still and quiet and 'good' when all she wants to do is run and jump and shout – and perhaps bounce on those wide and welcoming seats?
One can almost hear her growls of acquiescence as she is told, maybe, to 'sit still for the nice day, and you will have a treat' or 'be a good girl and sit like a lady' – something sure to make even the nicest little girl stick her tongue out and seethe! Cassatt, as a nicely brought up American girl, would no doubt have suffered in the same way as her subject at that age. One can only hope that after the painting was complete, that the little girl was taken to a large garden and allowed to tear about like a mad thing for a short while at least! The painting is currently in the hands of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and is in oils on canvas.