IMPRESSIONISTS IN AMERICA
The Impressionists "arrived" in America in different ways.  Degas, whose mother was Creole, spent some time in New Orleans.  Cassatt, on the other hand, convinced wealthy American collectors of the value of the then "new" French painting. Through her persistence and her influence she was able to gain acceptance, even acclaim, for French Impressionist painting in the U.S.


Mary Cassatt
Self-portrait 1878

Do not be fooled by Mary Cassatt's self-portrait in a dainty white dress, her face timidly facing away from the viewer. Cassatt was a mover and shaker of her time.  She developed her art like a professional, working not only on her painting skills but on her abilities as an adviser and entrepreneur.

Cassatt was one of the key early influences for the French Impressionists to be appreciated in America.  She was a close friend of Louisine Elder (then Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer).  Louisine married an industrial tycoon, and she invested the money--with some risk--in a vast collection of 19th Century French painting.

Advised by Cassatt, and mediated mainly by Cassat's agent, Durand-Ruel, she chose to invest in upstarts  such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Cezanne, and of course, Cassatt (for example, Girl Arranging her Hair) .The Havemeyer's collection also included Salon artists such as Ingres, Courbet and Corot.

Critics have pointed out that Louisine was very much swayed by Cassatt's opinion.  For example, following Cassatt's advice she sold some Cezannes (Cassatt having changed her mind on the value of the work of this particular painter) which Louisine later regretted. In 1910 Cassatt would write to an artist-friend from Philadelphia..."The dealers had nothing to sell so boomed Cezanne as against such men as Manet. To be sure those who have money buy Manets. I sold my Cezanne for which I paid 100 francs twenty five years ago (I was one of the first to see merit in his pictures) for 8,000 francs...Cezanne's nude figures are almost a copy of some of Greco's; he was always more influenced by pictures than by nature, except in his still life." (Weitzenhoffer, Frances; The Havemeyers, p192)

Cassatt was also asked to show her own work in America in several venues.  She was commissioned, for example, to create a mural for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1915, she exhibited, along with Degas, in the Suffrage Benefit Exhibition, organized by Louisine Havemeyer, at Knoedler's Galleries, in New York.

Cassatt broke the rules of the time by leaving her native America at a young age; by finding her own tutors throughout Europe--and thereby circumventing the obstacle of not being able to study at the Beaux-Arts because she was a woman; by first showing in the Salon and then rejecting the  Salon in favor of the Impressionists; by marketing Impressionist works abroad through her wealthy connections.

Although seldom acknowledged as such, she was a key player in the success of the Impressionist movement in the U.S.





Edgar Degas
The Cotton Exchange  1873

Degas, whose mother descended from New Orleans, decided early on in his career to adventure in America.

Few Impressionists ever visited America in their early career.  They preferred to study the Old Masters in Europe.

After the Franco-Prussian War (in which Degas, like Manet, had fought), Degas went to visit his two brothers and his uncle Michel Musson and their families in New Orleans during the winter of 1872-73. He was able to paint canvases of his New Orleans relatives, including The Cotton Exchange, and to think about his future. The trip was a turning point in his career. To his painter friend Tissot, he wrote: "The naturalist movement will draw in the manner of the great schools and then its strength will be recognized." (Boggs, Jean Sutherland; Degas, p23). After Degas returned from New Orleans to Paris in March 1873, Degas began to recruit artists for the first Impressionist exhibition that he, Monet, Morisot, Renoir, Cezanne, and others were planning to hold in 1874.

His visit to the U.S. might have also influenced his friendship with the American artist Cassatt.  He was one of her closest friends. Perhaps, the fact that she was American, opened an opportunity for Degas--who was known to be an witty yet ascerbic critic, even of his closest colleagues and friends. Cassatt admired Degas' work and often often advised Louisine Havemeyer to include Degas' paintings in her collection.

 
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