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Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt

American painter
1844 - 1926


Known for her perceptive depictions of women and children, Mary Cassatt was one of the few American artists active in the nineteenth-century French avant-garde.

Born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania to a prominent Pittsburgh family, she traveled extensively through Europe with her parents and siblings while a child.

The cup of tea
The Cup of Tea, 1879

Between 1860 and 1864 she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. At the age of twenty-two Cassatt went abroad, studying old master paintings in European museums. In Paris, she studied with prominent academic painters and independently at the Louvre. Returning to the United States for a short period, Cassatt went back to Europe in 1871, spending her time painting and copying the old masters in museums in Italy, Spain, and Belgium.

In 1874 she settled permanently in Paris. Although she had several works accepted for exhibition by the tradition-bound French Salon, her artistic aims aligned her with the avant-garde painters of the time.

In 1877, Edgar Degas invited her invited her to exhibit with his fellow impressionists. One of the works she showed was The Cup of Tea (1879, Metropolitan Museum, New York City), a portrait of her sister Lydia in luminescent shades of pink.

She particularly admired the work of Degas, as well as that of Manet and Courbet. A close working relationship developed between Cassatt and Degas.

The boating party
The boating party, 1893

Beginning in 1882 Cassatt's style took a new turn. Influenced, like Degas, by Japanese woodcuts, she began to emphasize line rather than form or mass and experimented with asymmetric composition-as in The Boating Party (1893, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.)-and informal, natural gestures and positions. Portrayals of mothers and children in intimate relationship and domestic settings, such as The Mirror (1900?, Brooklyn Museum, New York City), became her theme. Her portraits were not commissioned. Instead, she used members of her own family as subjects.

With loss of sight she was no longer able to paint after 1914.

During her long residence in France, Cassatt sent paintings back to exhibitions in the United States. Thus, hers were among the first impressionist works seen in this country. In advising wealthy American patrons on what to acquire, she also played a crucial role in the formation of some of the most important collections of impressionist art in this country.


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