Mary Cassatt is, of course, best known for producing charming double portraits which capture the bond of mother and child, although she did sometimes also cover other genres as well. Her love of pastels was inspired by her friendship with Edgar Degas and they would use this medium on many occasions throughout the 1890s. Their contributions helped to revive interest in this unique drawing tool, and Claude Monet would also make use of them for some of his brisk landscape scenes. It was specifically the opportunities of colour brought about by pastels which encouraged them all to use them instead of charcoal or chalk. The colours would also be particularly vibrant and we can see that here within this piece, as Nurse Reading to a Little Girl was produced entirely in pastel. The Met have listed the piece as having been completed on wove paper, mounted on canvas, which would have been to protect it for the future and announce it as a genuine, completed artwork that should be treated as such.
Within the composition itself we have two figures in an outdoor setting, no doubt an extended garden, with their home in the far distance. The mother is sat on a wooden chair with her child stood on her knee. The child has bright red hair and a small headband to keep it tidy for the painting. She also has a light pink dress and is held up by her mother's right arm. The woman has tidy hair and hard-wearing clothes which are perfectly presentable but also underline her role as a domestic mother, with all the tasks which that would have entailed during the late 19th century. They spend a few moments reading together in a touching scene, in which the girl is encouraged to start on her education, just as opportunities for women in society were starting to open up.
Those fortunate enough to head to the Met will be able to see other great works from Cassatt, such as Mother Playing with Child from around 1897, Portrait of a Young Girl from 1899, Denise at her Dressing Table, 1908-1909 and also Mother's Kiss from 1891. It is quite possible that some of their Cassatt artworks may have been acquired at the same time, either through the generous donation of a collector or in some cases a number of related items will come up for auction at the same time. Cassatt art is now particularly valuable as curators attempt to make their displays more diverse, hoping to include more female painters. This makes notable names such as Cassatt and Morisot particularly valuable because they were already established names prior to this fashionable trend towards female artists of the last few years, thus carrying a greater integrity amongst the public.