art content analysis mrs duffee seated on a striped sofa reading

Narrative content of the story.  Every picture can narrate a story. Even pictures of an inanimate object can signify meanings and tell tales. The painting entitled “Mrs. Duffee Seating on a stripe Sofa, Reading” portrayed a lovely woman of elegance and no more engrossed in anything but reading. This painting though painted without the adornment and colorful display of a background invokes a story that could have been adapted during the Victorian era. The physical features that we recognize in this picture was the style of her clothes, the tightly-knitted bind of her hair and the way she carries herself which strongly signifies the middle class European women during the 1800s. Recognizing these features can put everything into place and relate a story.

How would we know that there is a narrative content? Checking on the objects and the subject within the painting can predict a narrative content. We can also judge emotions through an analytical observation by checking on her poise. Seeing Mrs Duffee reading while she sat there idly and holding her head with her elbow on the sofa gives us an impression that she is more bored than entertained. If we are going to check dates back when this painting was made, we can assume that perhaps there were no other leisure hobbies in those days that women can spend time and enjoy other than stay home and read. In other words, boredom is just an ordinary episode in the woman’s life as depicted here. And by this painting, we may well know the painter’s feelings as a woman as she makes things appear in her canvas. Therefore, the painter just melancholy showed her deep underlying sentiments for women and expressed this through her art.

What do you think the story is? Simply said, this painting is about stories of women trying to become literate but domicile in a sense that they live in a world that has not encountered freedom and equality in gender. She probably just stays home while her husband makes a living and so has to resort to reading rather than go out and explore the world. For her, the only safest precaution is to read and learn.

About the artist and her times. The artist for this painting is no other than Mary Cassat. Mary was born in Pennysylvania in 1844 as the daughter of a rich trader. Her family left for Paris, France when she was seventeen and after few years the family went back to America for good. While the family was in Europe, Mary became engrossed with European art and made ways to study it. Although in the 19th century, only few women painters succeeded to become among the icons of painters recognized in the world of art, the authoritarian society of men ruled everything by profession. But this did not stop Mary to be the painter she has dreamed about.

Going back to Paris in 1866, she copied the style of the master like Louvre. She became very good in the traditional art style and came to know great painters like Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro who were all known for being impressionist rebels. Mary was also influenced by these painters in their impressionistic ideas of producing forms of art that are not conventional and traditional but extraordinary and sometimes challenging portrait of the realm (Artelino, 2008).

            Does this painting reflect the time of Mary Cassat and her times? How can you explain that? Mary signifies her artwork with her times as it reflects in her paintings of women and children during the 1800s as seen in the painting of Mrs. Duffee.  In this painting, she uses medium that symbolizes the customary tradition in this era. As an artist and a learner from the masters she knew that there could be a continuous struggle of learning and expression for women and although the society is not ready to accept the idea of commitment to elevate gender issues, Mary believe that there are no individual barriers for women to be diligent and fruitful in mind. That is how she portrays women in this painting. Women who wanted to learn but being held up in a society that is one-sided.

What do you think the artist used as her symbol and is this symbol related to any cultural, temporal or individual symbolism? The book in Mrs. Duffee’s painting strongly signifies cultural symbol because it is the representation of learning. It is an object that turns every individual to be knowledgeable, prudent and abled.  It is the symbol of every individual’s choice to become thorough with his or her wisdom. Reading does not require another person to get involved in the learning process but only involved the individual and the book itself.

How can we identify any elements of nationality, class, gender, ethnicity, group or age from this picture? There is actually an element of gender, class, ethnicity, nationality and group identity that is portrayed in this painting. The issue of equality in gender was oftentimes a sacred subject that cannot be tackled during this period. It is unethical for women to go against the will of men, their spouses or challenging the mores of men. Women in the Victorian era are of domesticated and passive type if we compare them to the women of today. There is inequality in their rights as citizens which is connected to the issue of their class in their society. The middle class women of the 1800s are trained to be elegant and graceful regardless of their individuality. There is also the element of ethnicity and nationality in this painting because it portrays the elegance of women in Europe and also embodies the women of the Western world during the 19th century. Age and group identity depicted in this painting exemplifies the everyday life of a young married housewife living in a world dominated by men.

Does the subject matter of the painting contain any political, religious, social, economical or moral value? The subject matter here expresses values that are of social and moral values. Social values because such picture depicts the ordinary life of middle class women during the Victorian age and moral values because it shows that the woman in this picture is no more than a gentle and intellectual person who tries to make herself knowledgeable and strong in mind (Gallery, 2006)


Artelino. (2008). Mary Cassat Biography [Electronic Version]. Retrieved April 3, 2008, from

Gallery, I. A. (2006). Mary  Cassat Painting [Electronic Version]. Retrieved April 4, 2008, from

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