Music and Art: Cassatt and Chadwick

By Cathy Fuller

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One thing I love about Boston is that there are new sources of inspiration cropping up constantly. In November 2010, the Museum of Fine Arts added to those sources by opening its new Art of the Americas Wing, and it seems like a great opportunity to pair works that hang there with music that was written at the same time.

The extraordinary painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania and brought up in an environment that valued travel as a key part of education. She spent most of her adult life in France where she became a friend of Edgar Degas, and where she would later exhibit with the Impressionists.

She’s popularly known for her tender and warm portraits of women and was able to evoke the depth of the bond between mothers and children with a signature style. That style was apparent also in her visions of women in society, which you can see in "In the Loge" to the left.

I love this painting for its deep browns and the luminous pearl that sits on the woman’s ear. It’s one of many by Cassatt depicting women in theater boxes, seeing and being seen in Paris. The woman is perhaps peering at someone else in another loge, while a man at the upper left has his glasses trained directly on her.

This Cassatt comes from 1878, the year that George Whitefield Chadwick wrote his String Quartet No. 2. Like Cassatt, Chadwick was interested in a realistic vision of people’s lives. He comes from what has been called the New England School of American composers.

Born in Lowell in 1854, he studied at the New England Conservatory, where he would later become Director, establishing the school with many of the German conservatory features that he knew well. He also invited many of the Boston Symphony Orchestra members to join the faculty, establishing a relationship that thrives to this day.

Here is a part of that String Quartet No. 2, with the Portland String Quartet:

Chadwick:  String Quartet No. 2, IV. Finale - Allegro Molto Vivace (excerpt)


Let me know what you think of these works—the painting, the music—or any thoughts on Boston’s cultural vitality.

(Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)

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