Mathews, Nancy Mowll
MATHEWS, Nancy Mowll
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Williams College Museum of Art, Main Street, Williamstown, MA 01267. E-mail— [email protected]liams.edu.
CAREER: Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg, VA, associate professor, 1977-87; Williams College, lecturer, 1988—, currently Williams College Museum of Art Eugenie Prendergast Curator.
MEMBER: College Art Association, American Association of Museums, Catalogue Raisonne Scholars Association, IFA Alumni Association
AWARDS, HONORS: Katherine Graves Davidson Award, 1980; Smithsonian Institute postdoctoral fellow, 1982.
(Editor) Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, Abbeville Press,(New York, NY), 1984.
Mary Cassatt, Abrams (New York, NY), 1987.
Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints (exhibition catalogue), Abrams (New York, NY), 1989.
Maurice Prendergast (exhibition catalogue), Prestel Art Books (Munich, Germany), 1990.
Mary Cassatt: A Life, Villard (New York, NY), 1994.
Mary Cassatt: A Retrospective, Hugh Lauter Levin, 1997.
The Art of Leisure: Maurice Prendergast in the Williams College Museum of Art (exhibition catalogue), Williams College Museum of Art (Williamstown, MA), 1999.
American Dreams: American Art to 1950 in the Williams College Museum of Art (exhibition catalogue), Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Also author of exhibition catalogs Charles Prendergast and Maurice Prendergast: The State of the Estate.
SIDELIGHTS: Best known as a scholar of American painter Mary Cassatt, Nancy Mowll Mathews is also recognized for her work on nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists including Maurice and Charles Prendergast and Paul Gauguin. Mathew's first book, Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, is a compilation of 208 letters written by Cassatt and a variety of correspondents, many of whom were notable people of the day. It covers the entirety of the painter's artistic life, beginning with her art school days in Philadelphia in the 1860s and continuing until late in her life. According to Michele Slung in the Washington Post Book World, the book reveals "Cassatt and her milieu from different perspectives that frequently do complement each other." Slung went on to note that "the most fascinating episodes treated in Cassatt and Her Circle all illustrate her stubbornness, her sense of integrity and of her own worth."
The biography Mary Cassatt has been praised as a good introduction to the artist's work for the general reader. Mathews traces the development of Cassatt as an artist, with commentary on stylistic development and attention to her use of various media. Included are black-and-white illustrations and high-quality color plates. Though she expressed disappointment that the work does not sufficiently address critical issues, Times Literary Supplement critic Kathleen Adler found it a "handsomely produced" book and a "splendid visual introduction to the artist's work." Arlene Raven in Women's Review of Books also praised Mary Cassat. "This new study," Raven wrote, "is thorough and readable. Mathews's extensive research and enlightened social perspectives also correct some of the witless, inappropriate language and ideas of previous Cassat literature," such as the notion that Cassatt focused on mothers and children because she had none of her own.
Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints, written with Barbara Stern Shapiro, explores the prints of Cassatt, who was better known for her paintings and pastels. The authors argue that as printmaker, Cassatt was superior to her Impressionist colleagues, managing to influence their work. In the chronology of Cassatt's oeuvre, the move to printmaking is seen as the stage of the artist's development following her period as an Impressionist.
Library Journal contributor Mary Hamel commented that this "sumptuous" study "surely will remain the leading resource for decades to come."
Maurice Prendergast is a study of the noted American Impressionist who is best known for his paintings of beach and park scenes. Mathews traces Prendergast's entire body of work and shows that he was an artist whose style is far from static. Kathleen Eagen Johnson in Library Journal deemed the work a "splendid exhibition catalog."
In Mary Cassatt: A Life, which Christian Science Monitor contributor Ruth Johnstone Wales considered a "superb piece of scholarship," Mathews explores the reasons for the enduring appeal of Cassatt's art. The author argues that Cassatt was a person who embodied great contradictions: though single and childless she achieved her greatest fame through paintings of mothers and children. Though relatively wealthy, she deliberately set out to ensure her financial independence by paying attention to the business side of art. Toward the end of her life Cassatt advised many important American art collectors, thereby exercising yet another kind of influence on the art scene. "Mathews," according to Susan Salter Reynolds in Los Angeles Times Book Review, "leaves us with a clear understanding of Cassatt's evolution as a painter, of her independence and determination."
Mathews also edited Cassatt: A Retrospective, a collection of memoirs, letters, critical essays, and reminiscences about Cassatt. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book a "vivid, composite portrait of the artist and her circle."
In Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life Mathews takes a distinctly psychoanalytic approach to the artist and his work. Indeed, as Christopher Ondaatje noted in Books in Canada, "Gauguin's life offers exceptional opportunities for Freudian interpretation." He lost his father in infancy and lived with a doting mother. He insisted on sexual freedom, which he found in Tahiti, and created paintings noted for their overt sexuality and aggression. Mathews is critical of Gauguin's abusive behavior toward women, particularly his wife, Mette, and other people who were close to him. She acknowledges, however, that his tumultuous, exotic existence provided the creative source for his art. Washington Post Book World reviewer Barbara Probst Solomon found this disapproval of Gauguin to be problematic, noting that "Mathews is too much at war with Gauguin . . . to appreciate him in terms of her stated subject, the erotic sources of his art." Ondaatje, on the other hand, called the book "perhaps the most realistic personal biography of Gauguin" and added that, despite Mathews's negative views of the artist's behavior, "no reader will doubt the enormous admiration she holds for what the artist produced. It was Gauguin's ability to create an erotic art from his inner life, rather than life itself, that is the secret to understanding both the artist and his extraordinarily sensual creations."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, September, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Mary Cassatt: A Life, p. 800.
Bloomsbury Review, March, 1997, Gary Michael, review of Cassatt: A Retrospective, p. 21.
Books in Canada, May, 2002, Christopher Ondaatje, review of Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, pp. 15, 16.
Choice, October, 1984, D. J. Johnson, review of Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, p. 256; January, 1990, J. A. Day, review of Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints, p. 785; October, 1987, C. Pascoe, review of Mary Cassatt, p. 299; April, 2002, J. J. Poesch, review of American Dreams: American Art to 1950 in the Williams College Museum of Art, p. 1410.
Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 1994, Ruth Johnstone Wales, review of Mary Cassatt: A Life, p .15.
Library Journal, August, 1984, Gloria Rensch, review of Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, p. 1438; June 15, 1987, Mary Hamel-Schwulst, review of Mary Cassatt, p. 65; November, 15, 1989, Mary Hamel-Schwust, review of Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints, p. 114; October 1, 1990, Kathleen Eagen Johnson, review of Maurice Prendergast, p. 88; April 15, 1997, Joseph C. Hewgley, review of Cassatt: A Retrospective, p. 76; February 1, 2002, Jack Perry Brown, review of American Dreams, p. 93.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 17, 1984, Robert L. Pincus, review of Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, p. 6; May 8, 1994, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Mary Cassatt: A Life, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, October 7, 1996, review of Cassatt: A Retrospective, pp. 55-56; September 10, 2001, review of Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, p. 71.
Times Literary Supplement, August 28, 1987, Kathleen Adler, review of Mary Cassatt, p. 923.
Tribune Books, (Chicago, IL), April 3, 1994, Frances Padorr Brent, review of Mary Cassatt: A Life, p. 6.
Washington Post Book World, July 29, 1984, Michele Slung, review of Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, p. 9; December 16, 2001, Barbara Probst Solomon, review of Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, p. 31.
Women's Review of Books, December, 1987, Arlene Raven, review of Mary Cassatt, p. 11.*