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Artists Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt

American Draftsman, Painter, and Printmaker

Movement: Impressionism

Born: May 22, 1844, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, United States

Died: June 14, 1926, Mesnil-Theribus, Oise, France

Quotes

"I am independent! I can live alone and I love to work."
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
"A woman artist must be .. capable of making the primary sacrifices."
Mary Cassatt
"I have touched with a sense of art some people - they felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare that to the joy for an artist?"
Mary Cassatt
"There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one or the narrow and hard one."
Mary Cassatt
"Most women paint as though they are trimming hats. Not you."
Degas said to Cassatt
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"I had already recognized who were my true masters. I admired Manet, Courbet and Degas. I hated conventional art - I began to live."

Synopsis

American-born Mary Cassatt traveled to France for her artistic training and remained there for most of her life and career. There she was recognized by contemporaries like Edgar Degas for her talent, and she became the only American artist to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris. Her signature subjects were portraits of women and portrayals of mothers and children caught in everyday moments. In both her style and her insightful evocations of women's inner lives, she was a distinctly modern artist of the late nineteenth century.

Key Ideas

Cassatt's work combined the light color palette and loose brushwork of Impressionism with compositions influenced by Japanese art as well as by European Old Masters, and she worked in a variety of media throughout her career. This versatility helped to establish her professional success at a time when very few women were regarded as serious artists.
Cassatt's art typically depicted domestic settings, the world to which she herself (as a respectable woman) was restricted, rather than the more public spaces that her male contemporaries were free to inhabit. Her material was occasionally dismissed as quintessentially "feminine," yet most critics realized that she brought considerable technical skill and psychological insight to her subject matter.
Through her business acumen and her friendships and professional relationships with artists, dealers, and collectors on both sides of the Atlantic, Cassatt became a key figure in the turn-of-the-century art world and helped to establish the taste for Impressionist art in her native United States.

Most Important Art

The Child's Bath (1893)
In this intimately observed vignette of a woman bathing her young daughter, Cassatt again combines certain stylistic influences of Japanese art with the subject matter of her own milieu. The variety of patterns in this composition, including several floral designs and the bold stripes of the woman's dress, is united by a restrained palette of grays and mauves; the soft coloration allows the viewer to concentrate on the subject of the scene, the close relationship between mother and child. Their intimacy is demonstrated by their closely positioned faces and by the circle of touch that extends from the woman's hand on the child's foot to the child's hand on the woman's knee. In their shared absorption in their task, they are as closely related as the pitcher and bowl that they are using for this domestic ritual. In works such as this one, Cassatt evoked the traditional artistic subject matter of the Madonna and Child, making her imagery secular rather than religious.
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Biography

Early Life and Training

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born to a comfortably upper-middle-class family: her father was a successful stockbroker, and her mother belonged to a prosperous banking family. The Cassatts lived in France and Germany from 1851 to 1855, giving the young Mary an early exposure to European arts and culture. She also learned French and German as a child; these language skills would serve her well in her later career abroad. Little else is known about her childhood, but she may have visited the 1855 Paris World's Fair, at which she would have viewed the art of Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, among other French masters.

In 1860, at the age of 16, Cassatt began two years of study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1865, she asked her parents to let her continue her artistic training abroad. Despite their initial misgivings, they agreed, and she moved to Paris and studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme. After a brief return to the United States from 1870 through 1871, during which she was frustrated by a lack of artistic resources and opportunities, she set out again for Paris. In the early 1870s she also traveled to Spain, Italy, and Holland, where she familiarized herself with the work of such artists as Diego Velázquez, Peter Paul Rubens, and Antonio da Correggio.

Mature Period

By 1874 Cassatt had established herself in a studio in Paris. Three years later, her parents and her sister Lydia joined her in France. Her family frequently served as models for her work of the late 1870s and 1880s, which included many images of contemporary women at the theater and the opera, in gardens and parlors. Always single-minded and self-reliant, Cassatt now had the opportunity to concentrate on her art in a city where, as she later said, "women [did] not have to fight for recognition if they did serious work."

Cassatt had a painting accepted and praised at the Salon of 1872, and she exhibited her work at the Salons of the next few years. However, when one of her entries was refused by the Salon in 1875, and neither of her entries was accepted in 1877, she became disenchanted with the politics and traditional tastes of Paris's official art world. When the artist Edgar Degas invited her in 1877 to join the group of independent artists known as the Impressionists, she was delighted. She was already an admirer of Degas's art, and she soon became close friends with Degas; the two frequently worked side by side, encouraging and advising each other. She also socialized with other fellow artists in this circle. Camille Pissarro, for example, was an older member of the group who acted as a mentor to Cassatt. Berthe Morisot was another female artist who exhibited with the Impressionists; she was a close contemporary to Cassatt, and she shared Cassatt's concentration on domestic scenes.

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Mary Cassatt Biography Continues

Cassatt exhibited her work with the Impressionists in Paris from 1879 onwards, and in 1886 she was included in the first major exhibition of Impressionist art in the United States, held at the Durand-Ruel galleries in New York. She continued to specialize in scenes of women in domestic interiors, with an Impressionist emphasis on quickly captured moments of contemporary life, and she expanded her technique from oil painting and drawing to pastels and printmaking. Japanese art had been very popular in Paris since it was featured at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, and Cassatt (like many Impressionists) incorporated its visual devices into her own work. She also shared with the Impressionists a general conviction that academic art was outdated and a commitment to exploring fresh new means of depicting everyday modern life.

By the 1880s, Cassatt was particularly well known for her sensitive depictions of mothers and children. These works, like all her portrayals of women, may have achieved such popular success for a specific reason: they filled a societal need to idealize women's domestic roles at a time when many women were, in fact, beginning to take an interest in voting rights, dress reform, higher education, and social equality. Yet Cassatt's depictions of her fellow upper-middle-class and upper-class women were never simplistic; they contained layers of meaning behind the airy brushwork and fresh colors of her Impressionist technique. Cassatt herself never married or had children, choosing instead to dedicate her entire life to her artistic profession. She shared and admired progressive attitude of Bertha Honore Palmer, a businesswoman and philanthropist who invited Cassatt to paint a mural for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and who felt that "women should be someone and not something."

Late Life

After 1900, Cassatt suffered from failing health and deteriorating eyesight. However, she maintained close friendships with other artists and important art world figures in France, from Pierre-Auguste Renoir to the American collectors Harry and Lousine Havemeyer. Although she and Degas suffered a rift in their friendship during the infamous Dreyfus affair of the late 1890s (Cassatt, like Pissarro and Monet, was pro-Dreyfus, while Degas sided against Dreyfus), they later made amends. In 1904 Cassatt was recognized for her cultural contributions by the French government, which awarded her the order of Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur. She made her last visit to the United States in 1908. By this time she had suffered several personal losses; her beloved sister, Lydia, died after a long illness in 1882, and her brother Alexander, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, died in 1906.

By 1914, due to her increasing blindness, Cassatt was no longer able to work, although she continued to exhibit her art in exhibitions including the Suffrage Loan Exhibition of Old Masters and Works by Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt at the Knoedler Galleries in New York in 1915. She lived primarily in Grasse during World War I before returning to her country home, a chateau located in Le Mesnil-Theribus, fifty miles northwest of Paris. Cassatt died on June 14, 1926.


Legacy

Cassatt was active into the 1910s, and by her late years she was able to witness the emergence of modernism in Europe and the United States; however, her signature style remained consistent. The waning critical taste for Impressionism after her death in the 1920s meant that her influence on other artists was limited. One exception was a group of women artists based in Montreal, Canada, in the 1920s that came to be known as the "Beaver Hall Group." This was the first Canadian art association in which professional women artists played a significant role, and its members (including Mabel May, Lilias Torrance Newton, and Prudence Heward) followed Cassatt's example of working closely together and studying abroad. Cassatt also influenced Lucy Bacon, a California-born artist who studied with the Impressionists in Paris.

However, Cassatt's status in art history has been significant and influential in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She is considered one of the most important American expatriate artists of the late 1800s, along with John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. She has also been the focus of influential scholarship on female artists, and her work has been discussed by key feminist art historians including Griselda Pollock and Linda Nochlin. Cassatt's most public legacy may be her influence on American patrons who collected her work and the work of her European contemporaries and later bequeathed it to museums. One prominent example was Louisine Elder Havemeyer, a close friend whose extensive collection of Impressionist art is now a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Mary Cassatt
Interactive chart with Mary Cassatt's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Édouard Manet
Thomas Couture
Gustave Courbet
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Friends

Edgar Degas
Camille Pissarro
Berthe Morisot

Movements

Impressionism
Realism
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt
Years Worked: 1875 - 1926

Artists

Lucy Bacon

Friends

Edgar Degas
Berthe Morisot

Movements

Post-Impressionism
Feminist Art



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Useful Resources on Mary Cassatt

Videos
Books
Websites
Articles
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Mary Cassatt: A Life

By Nancy Mowll Matthews

Mary Cassatt: Impressionist Painter

By Lois Harris

paintings
May Cassatt: Prints and Drawings from the Collection of Ambroise Vollard

By Marc Rosen, Susan Pinsky, Nancy Mowll Matthews, and Sarah Bertalan

Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints

By Frank Getlein

More Interesting Books about Mary Cassatt
Friendship Was Their Medium

By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
May 29, 2014

Degas and Cassatt: The Untold Story of Their Friendship

By Stephanie Strasnick
ARTnews
March 27, 2014

Transient States: On Mary Cassatt

By Barry Schwabsky
The Nation
June 4, 2013

Fascination with a Medium, and the Lives of Women

By Martha Schwendener
The New York Times
January 25, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Mary Cassatt
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Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas was a French Impressionist painter, printmaker and sculptor with an extraordinarily long career from the mid-nineteenth century until after WWI. As one of the original group of Impressionists, although he preferred to be called a Realist, he traveled widely and employed the use of photography in his creative process. He is most renowned for his painting and drawings of ballet dancers in rehearsal and performances in the theatre.
TheArtStory: Edgar Degas
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
TheArtStory: Impressionism
Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet was a French painter and chief figure in the Realist movement of the mid-nineteenth century. His paintings often contained an emotional bleakness, and were praised for their precision and use of light. Along with Delacroix, Courbet was a key influence on the Impressionists.
TheArtStory: Gustave Courbet
Camille Corot
Camille Corot
Camille Corot
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was a nineteenth-century French painter and printmaker. Best known for his landscape paintings rendered in a Neo-Classical tradition, Corot's practice of painting outside in the open air was highly influential to many of the French Impressionists.
Camille Corot
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix was a mid-nineteenth-century French painter and pioneer of European Modernist painting. Known primarily as a Romantic, Delacroix's paintings were passionate in their depictions of love, war and human sensuality, earning the artist both praise and controversy in his time. His preoccupation with color-induced optical effects and use of expressive brushstrokes were crucial influences on Impressionism and Pointillism.
Eugène Delacroix
Ingres
Ingres
Ingres
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a French Neoclassical painter. Although he considered himself to be a history painter in the tradition of Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David, it was Ingres's portraits, both painted and drawn, that were recognized as his greatest legacy.
Ingres
Jean-Leon Gerome
Jean-Leon Gerome
Jean-Leon Gerome
Jean-Leon Gerome was a French Academic painter and sculptor. In 1856, he visited Egypt for the first time, which marked a shift in his work towrads orientalist paintings, which depiced Arab religion, genre scenes and North African landscapes. In 1865, Gerome was elected a member of the Institut de France.
Jean-Leon Gerome
Diego Velazquez
Diego Velazquez
Diego Velazquez
Diego Velazquez was a Spanish artist, court painter for King Philip IV, and one of the leading figures in the Baroque period. Known as a master of detail and light, Velazquez's work has been a significant influence on generations of artists and movements, from Realism to Surrealism.
Diego Velazquez
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens was a seventeenth-century Baroque artist who painted richly-toned allegories, history cycles, and religious scenes. His works are often populated by fleshy female nudes and figures in dramatic, twisting postures.
Peter Paul Rubens
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro was a French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painter. Known as the "Father of Impressionism," he used his own painterly style to depict urban daily life, landscapes, and rural scenes.
TheArtStory: Camille Pissarro
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot came from a family with a long history of successful painters. She was the only woman painter accepted and respected by the Impressionist circle. Morisot served as a model for Manet, married his brother, and went on to have a meaningful art career herself.
TheArtStory: Berthe Morisot
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the leading figures of French Impressionism during the late-nineteenth century. Renoir tended to favor outdoor scenes, gardens bathed in sunlight, and large gatherings of people. Known as a master of light, shadow and color, Renoir was also highly esteemed for his depiction of natural movement on the canvas. In terms of the French Impressionists' lasting popularity and fame, Renoir is perhaps second only to Monet.
TheArtStory: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was the premiere portraitist of his generation, well-known for his depictions of high society figures in Paris, London, and New York. He updated a centuries-old tradition in order to capture his sitters' character and even reputation.
TheArtStory: John Singer Sargent
James Whistler
James Whistler
James Whistler
James Whistler was a nineteenth-century American expatriate artist. Educated in France and later based in London, Whistler was a famous proponent of art-for-art's-sake, and an esteemed practictioner of tonal harmony in his canvases, often characterized by his masterful use of blacks and greys, as seen in his most famous work, Whistler's Mother (1871). Whistler was also known as an American Impressionist, and in 1874 he famously turned down an invitation from Degas to exhibit his work with the French Impressionists.
TheArtStory: James Whistler
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter and a prominent figure in the mid-nineteenth-century Realist movement of French art. Manet's paintings are considered among the first works of art in the modern era, due to his rough painting style and absence of idealism in his figures. Manet was a close friend of and major influence on younger artists who founded Impressionism such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
TheArtStory: Édouard Manet
Thomas Couture
Thomas Couture
Thomas Couture
Thomas Couture was a French painter who found moderate success at the Salon before starting his own rival school. Best known for history and genre painting, he trained many students who went on to greatness, yet he never reconciled his academic side with his non-conformist ideals.
Thomas Couture
Realism
Realism
Realism
Realism is an approach to art that stresses the naturalistic representation of things, the look of objects and figures in ordinary life. It emerged as a distinct movement in the mid-nineteenth century, in opposition to the idealistic, sometimes mythical subjects that were then popular, but it can be traced back to sixteenth-century Dutch art and forward into twentieth-century styles such as Social Realism.
TheArtStory: Realism
Lucy Bacon
Lucy Bacon
Lucy Bacon
Lucy Bacon (1857-1932) is a Californian impressionist artist who studied in Paris under Camille Pissarro after being introduced to him by Mary Cassatt. Her work, which is heavily influenced by the impressionist style, can be found in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Lucy Bacon
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist art emerged in the 1960s and '70s to explore questions of sex, power, the body, and the ways in which gender categories structure how we see and understand the world. Developing at the same time as many new media strategies, feminist art frequently involves text, installation, and performance elements.
TheArtStory: Feminist Art
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