Cassatt's In the Loge
Mary Cassatt, In the Loge, 1878, oil on canvas, 81.28 x 66.04 cm / 32 x 26 inches (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
View this painting up close in the Google Art Project
At the opera
In nineteenth century France, the gaze of the observer—whether on Napoleon's grand new
boulevards or in the opera—was very much structured by issues of
status. Mary Cassatt's remarkable painting In the Loge
(c. 1878-79) clearly shows the complex relationship between the
gaze, public spectacle, gender, and class privilege.
Cassatt was a wealthy American artist who had adopted the style of the
Impressionists while living in Paris. Here she depicts a fashionable
upper-class woman in a box seat at the Paris opera (as it happens, the
sitter is Cassatt's sister, Lydia). Lydia is shown holding opera glasses
up to her eyes; but instead of tilting them down, as she would if she
were watching the performance below, her gaze is level. She peers
straight across the chamber perhaps at another member of the audience.
Look closely and you will notice that, in turn, and in one of the boxes
across the room, a gentleman is gazing at her. Lydia is then, in a
sense, caught between his gaze and ours even as she spies another.