Obelisk Art History

Lilacs in a Window (Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre)

Mary Cassatt, 1880 – 1883
Lilacs in a Window (Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre), Mary Cassatt
Lilacs in a Window (Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre), zoomed in
61.5 cmLilacs in a Window (Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre) scale comparison51.1 cm
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Lilacs in a Window (Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre) is an Impressionist Oil on Canvas Painting created by Mary Cassatt from 1880 to 1883. It lives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Still Life and Flowers. SourceDownload

Artwork submitted by Anna P.

Mary Cassatt almost always painted people. Intimate portraits make up almost her entire body of work, friends and family captured in the quiet moments of their lives. Her sister Lydia crocheting in the garden of the family summer home, a mother and sleepy child, a moment of reflection with a cup of tea.

This still-life was a rarity for Cassatt. It’s a small canvas, originally owned by the Parisian art collector Moyse Dreyfus, one of Cassatt’s friends and patrons. With her typical human subjects removed, Lilacs in a Window is a microcosm of Cassatt’s technique. The formality typical of the still-life genre is replaced by dynamic angles in the background creating a casual, life-like frame. The vase is in shadow, but its form is still clearly rendered. And the hundreds of delicate lilac blossoms are expertly suggested through layers of purple, violet and lavender.

Still-life is a genre that rewards slow, thoughtful examination. They're easy to overlook—while images of people suggest narrative, images of flowers invite contemplation. Take some time with one, it’s worth it.

Reed Enger, "Lilacs in a Window (Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre)," in Obelisk Art History, Published September 17, 2017; last modified October 11, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/mary-cassatt/lilacs-in-a-window-vase-de-lilas-a-la-fenetre/.

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