National Gallery of Art

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Imagine if you could see the pen Beethoven used to write his Symphony No. 5. Or the chisel Michelangelo used to sculpt his David. Art lovers find endless fascination in the materials of artists — a pen, a brush, even a rag can become sacred objects, humanizing a work of art.

And now, at Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, visitors can see some of the materials that impressionist Mary Cassatt once used — three well-loved, large wooden boxes of pastels from distinguished Paris art supply stores. Each box is filled with stubby pieces of pastels, some worn down to half an inch, others almost untouched.

Now That’s An Artifact: See Mary Cassatt’s Pastels At The National Gallery

Photo credit: National Gallery of Art

I like her active expression, relaxed carefree pose, and flowy summery clothes. I encountered many iconic works and household-name artists at the National Gallery of Art. But “The Reading Girl” was one of my very favorites, though it was far from the crowded main floor and I know very little about the artist (Pietro Magni, who apparently was from Milan and sculpted her in the 1860s).