Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter

illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. 32p. bibliog. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627790161.
Gr 3–5—Art with a capital A leaps from every page of this gorgeous picture book biography, but in the end, readers are left with a muddled view of Mary Cassatt. Combining gouache, watercolors, acrylics, enamel, and tempera, Swiatkowska presents a visually arresting view of the artist's life. Most of the illustrations are spreads with thickly layered backgrounds. Small splashes of bright colors or textures let images stand out from muted backdrops. The black and gray scenes of Cassatt's childhood give way to lighter tones for the ones that take place after she was able to go to Paris to further her studies. As Herkert describes how Cassatt grew as an artist, the palette becomes brighter and less oppressive. Images from Cassatt's paintings appear throughout, but there is no guide or listing. Those unfamiliar with Cassatt may be confused when a version of Rembrandt's Syndics of the Clothmakers' Guild is adapted in one spread or when Edgar Degas's The Ballet Class and L'Absinthe are used in others. While having kids identify the different works could be a great extension for art classes, the approach is somewhat sophisticated for younger children. While Swiatkowska's artistic expression is impressive, it does not fully extend the text and contribute to readers' understanding of Cassatt's artistry. Quotations from Cassatt's letters provide glimpses into her feelings about painting, but without more context, readers may have trouble appreciating Cassatt's larger significance in the art world.
VERDICT Useful as a supplemental resource, but not essential for every collection.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
, Oct 01, 2015

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