Mary Cassatt, perhaps
the most well known of the French Impressionist women painters,
was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, on May 22, 1844. At
seventeen, she was studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine
Arts (PAFA)--four years later, she decided to leave for Paris and
to be tutored by Jean-Louis Gerome, a well known artist. Three years
later, in 1868, Cassatt's The Mandolin Player was accepted
into the Paris Salon. She studied Old Masters in different parts
of Europe: Correggio in Italy, Murillo in Spain, Rubens in Antwerp--even
though, as a woman, she was not allowed to attend the Ecole des
Cassatt continued exhibiting
at the Paris Salon until the late 1870s. In 1877 she was invited
by Degas--who had been impressed by Ida, which she had exhibited
earlier--to join the the Independents or Impressionist group. Although
this show fell through, Cassatt, undaunted, showed Head of a
Woman at the Paris Exposition Universelle. By the following
year, however, she exhibited 11 works at the Fourth Impressionist
Exhibition and continued to show with them quite consistently--despite
some political squabbles among the group--until their last exhibit
Cassatt and Degas were
friends and colleagues, although Cassatt often found Degas too ascerbic.
It is interesting that the painting Girl Arranging Her Hair
found in Degas' studio after his death, was thought to be his, but
was then claimed to be Cassatt's work.
Although Cassatt is
primarily known for her paintings of mother and child, she primarily
captured life of modern Parisians in nineteenth century society--particularly
those of women in both private and public spaces. She worked in
oil and pastels and in the 1890s became interested in Japanese prints.
Cassatt was acquainted
with Morisot, as a friend and as an artist--although occasionnally
they were rivals. The four women now considered Women Impressionists
(Braquemond, Cassatt, Gonzales, and Morisot) did not see themselves
as gender-based artists, and they tended to bond more closely with
male artists, such as Degas for Cassatt and Manet for Morisot. Cassatt
was perhaps the most politicized of the four, and established ties
with other women artists, outside the Impressionist movement. Cassatt
remained single throughout her life, and, being wealthy and independent
was able to build a successful career as an artist during her lifetime.
Cassatt had four solo
exhibitions--Durand-Ruel becoming her exclusive dealer--and was
awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in 1904. Cassatt's
work shows an evolution from a close study of Old Masters to a freer
style vanguarded by the Impressionists--with boldness in a very
personal choice of theme:primarily women and children.
to French Impressionism is seen not only in her artwork, but in
her ability to influence the acceptance of Impressionism in America.
She did so by being a key advisor to Louisine Havermeyer, who amassed
quite a collection of Impressionist paintings in the U.S., and by
showing her own work in Pennsylvania and New York.
Cassatt died on June
14, 1926 in her house at Beaufresne, France.
Works by Mary Cassatt
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