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.
So 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 May 20, 2020, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/mary-cassatt/lilacs-in-a-window-vase-de-lilas-a-la-fenetre/.