American artist Mary Cassatt, best known for unsentimental depictions of mothers and children, was, like Van Gogh, an Impressionist deeply inspired by the flat planes and simple lines of ukiyo-e. Unlike Van Gogh, however, an 1890 exhibition of Japanese woodcuts at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris inspired her to experiment with printmaking techniques like aquatint, drypoint, etching, and hand-coloring.
Her resulting series of 10 prints combines the elegant beauty of Japanese woodcuts with Cassatt’s trademark intimacy, offering a window into 19th-century women’s private lives. The Bath (1890–91), Cassatt’s first stab at the medium, for which she produced 17 different editions (more than for any other print in the series), is inspired both in subject and style by Japanese art. The prevailing maternal themes of Cassatt’s work found a counterpoint in ukiyo-e, with its preponderance of examples featuring the everyday lives of all kinds of women: courtesans, mothers with children, and young girls. We observe this tender scene of a mother bathing her child from a slightly higher-than-usual vantage point, and the pair is rendered flatly, with clear black outlines and minimal shadows, a sense of depth created by the layers of colors.