Lilacs in a Window is an 1879 painting in the Impressionist style by the leading American painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt. This work is located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York.
Lilacs in a Window, or Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre in French, is one of Mary Cassatt’s few still-lives and one of her more recognizable artworks.
We see an aubergine vase with mainly purple but also white lilacs. It stands on a window sill, or possibly a surface in a greenhouse. There appear to be plants below the level of the vase further into the space, and slanted glass appears to close in that space in the background.
The Impressionistic touch demands a virtuoso performance in the many shoots and folds of the lilacs. Cassatt’s accomplishment, most properly viewed at a moderate distance, is manifest.
A stalk encircled by green leaves holds up a swarm of violet tufts which we recognize in an instant. The entire floral structure inclines to our right, which is why the vase stands off-center to the left.
Mary Cassatt’s demanding technique can be further admired by noticing the manifold reflections around the vase. Some areas have been darkened by simple shadow; others bear the projections of the nearby greenery. The non-reflective body of the vase required a series of rounded strokes, brilliantly executed, for a proper impression of its firm and burnished make.
Lilacs in a Window was created by Cassatt during her Parisian stay, at a time when the Impressionist group was seeking patronage and she herself was beginning to bear the pressure of financial need.
Her family had just reached her and they were living all together. This painting likely occurred just after the successful exhibition of 1879. Cassatt would exhibit at that of 1880 and 1881 as well when the painting was most likely sold or gifted to Moyse Dreyfus. It should be noted that Cassatt was among those Impressionists whose paintings quite regularly managed to attract purchasers.
The painting originally belonged to Moyse Dreyfus — he of Mr. Moyse Dreyfus (1879) — a Parisian art collector close to the Impressionist circle. Today it can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.