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“Offering the Panel to the Bullfighter” by Mary Cassatt

"Offering the Panel to the Bullfighter" by Mary Cassatt

“Offering the Panel to the Bullfighter” by Mary Cassatt

“Offering the Panel to the Bullfighter” by Mary Cassatt depicts a young woman flirtatiously offering a glass of water to a bullfighter, who dips panal (honeycomb) into it to make an energizing drink. Cassatt made several paintings of local Spanish subjects during her stay in Spain in 1873. The vibrant colors and brushwork were inspired by Diego Velázquez, whose artworks, Cassatt studied during her travels to Madrid and Seville. The Bullfighter costume is depicted with the decorations and elaborateness of a torero’s outfit that the Spanish call the “suit of lights.” The flamboyant matador costume is part of the drama of a  bullfight, which is considered performance art.


A bullfighter is a performer in the art of bullfighting as practiced in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Peru, France, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and other countries influenced by Portuguese and Spanish culture. The  Bullfighter is the leading performer who kills the bull and is addressed as a maestro (master), or with the formal title matador de Toros (killer of bulls).

Bullfighting usually is fatal for the bull, and it is dangerous for the matador. A matador of classical style is trained to divert the bull with the muleta but to come close to the right horn as he makes the fatal sword-thrust between the scapulae and through the aorta. At this moment, the danger to the matador is the greatest.

Most historians trace bull festivities to prehistorical times, as a trend that once extended through the entire Mediterranean coast and has just survived in Iberia. Numerous archaeological findings had proven the uninterrupted importance of the bull as a symbol of the sun for the Iberian cults. Considering the nature of pre-roman religions, the ritual sacrifice through the symbolic combat of sacred animals was part of the ritual.

During the Arab rule of Iberia, the Arab ruling class tried to exterminate and ban the practice of bullfighting, considering it a pagan celebration. Bullfighting was illegal in all Arab territory, but the practice became a mark of identity and resistance for Christian Iberians. In the 16th century, Pope Pius V banned bullfighting for being a pagan thing and for being dangerous for the participants. This ban did not deter the Spanish and Portuguese from keeping the tradition alive, and the following pope did what he could to backtrack.

Today bullfighting is controversial again and under criticism from animal rights and animal welfare advocates.

Mary Cassatt

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844 – 1926) was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in Pennsylvania but lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Cassatt enjoyed the wave of feminism that occurred in the mid-1800s, allowing relatively more accessible educational opportunities, and she became an outspoken advocate for women’s equality, campaigning with her friends for equal travel scholarships for students in the 1860s, and the right to vote in the 1910s. As a successful, highly trained woman artist who never married, she portrayed women and mothers with dignity and the suggestion of a more in-depth, meaningful inner life. Cassatt objected to being stereotyped as a “woman artist” and actively supported women’s suffrage.

Offering the Panel to the Bullfighter

  • Title:                Offering the Panel to the Bullfighter
  • Artist:              Mary Cassatt
  • Year:                1873
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    39 5/8 x 33 1/2 in. (100.6 x 85.1 cm)
  • Museum:          Clark Art Institute

Mary Cassatt


  • “It is as well not to have too great an admiration for your master’s work. You will be in less danger of imitating him.” – Mary Cassatt
  • Once banned by Muslims and the Pope?
  • Banned many times in its history and controversial again day?

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“It is as well not to have too great an admiration for your master’s work. You will be in less danger of imitating him.”
– Mary Cassatt


Photo Credit: Mary Cassatt [Public domain]

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