In 1872 Mary Cassatt exhibited her work in the Paris Salon, where it attracted the attention of Edgar Degas, who introduced her to the impressionists, with whom she exhibited several times. Cassatt shared with the impressionists an interest in everyday scenes and is primarily known for her intimate depictions of women, children, and family members. Mary Cassatt painted her beloved brother several times, but this portrait was her favorite because, she said, it "was very much like him in those days."

At the time this portrait was painted, Alexander Cassatt was first vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and one of the most powerful executives in the country. The businessman is seen absorbed in his thoughts, not in the least aware that he is being painted by his sister. Leaning back in his chair, he reveals perhaps a touch of farsightedness as he examines something in his left hand. The portrait suggests both the humanity and reserve that were attributed to Alexander.
Artist Mary Cassatt, American, 1844-1926
Title
  • Alexander J. Cassatt
Date ca. 1880
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 25 3/4 × 36 3/8 inches (65.4 × 92.4 cm)
Framed: 35 1/8 × 45 3/4 × 2 1/4 inches (89.2 × 116.2 × 5.7 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund
Accession Number 1986.60
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W292, Level 2 (see map)
Mary Cassatt;
through the family of Alexander Cassatt;
Robert Cassatt.
the sitter's great-grandson, Alexander Cassatt.
1986-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Mary Cassat. Exh. cat., McClees Gallery. Philadelphia, 1931, no. 4.

Mary Cassat. Exh. cat., Knoedler & Co. New York, 1966, no. 18.

Carson, Julia M.H. Mary Cassatt. New York, 1966, p. 138.

Breeskin, A. D. Mary Cassat: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors and Drawings. Washington D.C., 1970, p. 74, no. 126 (ill.).

Lindsay, S. G. Mary Cassat and Philadelphia. Philadelphia, 1985, p. 57 (fig 15a).

“DIA Purchases Another Cassatt.” Detroit Free Press. (November 26, 1986): p. 6C.

“DIA Buys its Third Cassatt.” The Detroit News. (November 26, 1986) (ill.).

“DIA Announces Cassatt Purchase.” The Legal Advertiser Oakland County. (December 18, 1986): p. 4 (ill.).

Recent Acquisitions: A Selection of Works Recently Acquired from R.S. Johnson Fine Art. Exh. cat., R.S. Johnson Fine Art. Chicago, 1987, pp. 8-9 (ill.).

“Museum Acquires Painting.” O & E. (January 8, 1987): p. 10E (ill.).

“DIA Acquires Cassatt’s ‘Favorite’ Portrait.” Monitor. (January 22, 1987).

“Cassatt Portrait.” Antique Monthly 20, 5 (April 1987): p. 1 (ill.).

"Notes on Recent Acquisitions." Bulletin of the DIA 64, 1 (1988): p. 56 (ill.).

Barter, Judith. Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman. New York, 1998, p. 256 (fig. 32).

American Paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Volume II. New York, 1997, pp. 40-41 (ill.).

American Beauty: Paintings and Sculpture from the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1770-1920. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 2004, pp. 81-82 (ill.).

Mary Cassatt Retrospective. Exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art. Yokohama, Japan, 2016, p. 60, no. 030 (ill.).