I can’t remember the first time I laid eyes on her portrait, but it’s left an indelible impression on my mind and heart for more than twenty years. Mary Cassatt’s Children Playing on the Beach represents the quintessential joy of my childhood. It shows blissful kids preoccupied with their toys and contented companionship. It reflects the grandeur of a day at the beach without worrying about what the tide will bring in.
Adulthood has me feeling childish in my recent pursuits. I never once looked up to see the perilous waves of a pandemic rushing toward me and ready to break. Prior to Covid-19, my summers involved grabbing fistfuls of sand instead of handfuls of sanitizer. Like the figures in Cassatt’s masterpiece, I would firmly plant myself on the beach, fixed in the resolve to have fun. I cannot do that any longer. My family’s annual beach vacation was canceled. My idea of a seaside getaway now is living vicariously through Children Playing on the Beach that I see on the web.
It’s interesting to note that Mary Cassatt is praised for her ability to paint tender relationships between both women and children. Indeed, the children in this painting are dressed similarly and are a picture of pure delight. One of the children has rosy, adorable, pinchable cheeks. The other child has a red ribbon wrapped around her hat, which reminds me of the luxurious indulgence of summer.
If Cassatt were alive today, I wonder if her art would receive the same recognition of tenderness. I wonder if the paintings she would create in our current climate, with children wearing masks strapped across their faces, would still come across as sweet.
Elise Woods is an assistant tutoring coordinator and has been published in The Avenue and SpreeBeez magazine.
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1884-1926) was an American Impressionist painter. She was born in Pennsylvania but spent most of her life in Europe. She juggled her career as a painter with her role as a primary caretaker for her sister and parents. Children Playing on the Beach was exhibited in 1886 by which point she was well-known for her paintings of women and children.