Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) was an American
painter and printmaker. She lived much of her adult life in France, where she
first befriended Edgar Degas and later
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) was an American painter
and printmaker. She lived much of her adult life in France, where she first
befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists.
Cassatt (pronounced ca-SAHT) often created images of the social and private
lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers
Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now part of
Pittsburgh. She was born into favorable circumstances: her father, Robert
Simpson Cassat (later Cassatt), was a successful stockbroker and land
speculator, and her mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking
family. The ancestral name had been Cossart. Cassatt was a distant cousin of
artist Robert Henri.Cassatt was one of seven children, of which two died in
infancy. Her family moved eastward, first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then to
the Philadelphia area, where she began schooling at age six.
Cassatt grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education;
she spent five years in Europe and visited many of the capitals, including
London, Paris, and Berlin. She had her first lessons in drawing and music while
abroad and learned German and French. Her first exposure to French artists
Ingres, Delacroix, Corot, and Courbet was likely at the Paris World’s Fair of
1855. Also exhibited at the exhibition were Degas and Pissarro, both of whom
would be future colleagues and mentors.
Even though her family objected to her becoming a professional artist, Cassatt
began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the early age of fifteen, and continued her
studies during the years of the American Civil War.Part of their concern may
have been Cassatt’s exposure to feminist ideas and the bohemian behavior of some
of the male students, of which one was Thomas Eakins, later the controversial
director of the Academy. About 20% of the students were female. Though most were
not bent on making a career of art, they viewed art as a valid means of
achievement and recognition, and a socially valuable talent. Cassatt, instead,
was determined to become a professional artist.
Impatient with the slow pace of instruction and the patronizing attitude of the
male students and teachers, she decided to study the old masters on her own. She
later said, “There was no teaching” at the Academy. Female students could not
use live models (until somewhat later) and the principal training was primarily
drawing from casts. 
Cassatt decided to end her studies (at that time, no degree was granted). She
finally overcame her father’s objections and in 1866, she moved to Paris, with
her mother and family friends acting as chaperones.  Since women could not
yet attend the École des Beaux-Arts, she applied to study privately with masters
from the school. Clearly skilled, she was accepted to study with Jean-Léon
Gérôme, a highly regarded teacher known for his hyper-realistic technique and
his depiction of exotic subjects. A few months later Gérôme would also accept
Eakins as a student. Cassatt augmented her artistic training with daily
copying in the Louvre (she obtained the required permit, which was necessary to
control the “copyists”, usually low-paid women, who daily filled the museum to
paint copies for sale). The museum also served as a social meeting place for
Frenchmen and American female students, who like Cassatt, were not allowed to
attend cafes where the avant-garde socialized. In this manner, fellow artist and
friend Elizabeth Gardner met and married famed academic painter William
Toward the end of 1866, she joined a painting class taught by Charles Chaplin, a
noted genre artist. In 1868, Cassatt also studied with artist Thomas Couture,
whose subjects were mostly romantic and urban.  On trips to the countryside,
the students drew from life, particularly the peasants going about their daily
activities. In 1868 one of her paintings, A Mandoline Player, was accepted for
the first time by the selection jury for the Paris Salon. This work is in the
Romantic style of Corot and Couture, and is one of only two paintings from
the first decade of her career that can be documented today.The French art
scene was in a process of change, as radical artists such as Courbet and Manet
tried to break away from accepted Academic tradition and the Impressionists were
in their formative years. Cassatt’s friend Eliza Haldeman wrote home that
artists “are leaving the Academy style and each seeking a new way, consequently
just now everything is Chaos”. Cassatt, on the other hand, would continue to
work in the traditional manner, submitting works to the Salon for over ten
years, with increasing frustration, before striking out with the Impressionists.
Returning to the United States in the late summer of 1870—as the
Franco-Prussian War was starting—Cassatt lived with her family in Altoona. Her
father continued to resist her chosen vocation, and paid for her basic needs,
but not her art supplies. She placed two of her paintings in a New York
gallery and found many admirers but no purchasers. She was also dismayed at the
lack of paintings to study while staying at her summer residence. Cassatt even
considered giving up art, as she was determined to make an independent living.
She wrote in a letter of July, 1871, "I have given up my studio & torn up my
father's portrait, & have not touched a brush for six weeks nor ever will again
until I see some prospect of getting back to Europe. I am very anxious to go out
west next fall & get some employment, but I have not yet decided where." 
She traveled to Chicago to try her luck but lost some of her early paintings in
the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Shortly afterward, her work attracted the
attention of the Archbishop of Pittsburgh, who commissioned her to paint two
copies of paintings by Correggio in Parma, Italy, advancing her enough money to
cover her travel expenses and part of her stay. In her excitement she wrote, “O
how wild I am to get to work, my fingers farely itch & my eyes water to see a
fine picture again”. With Emily Sartain, a fellow artist from a
well-regarded artistic family from Philadelphia, Cassatt set out for Europe
Tea by Mary Cassatt, 1880, oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 36 1/4 in., Museum of Fine
Arts, BostonWithin months of her return to Europe in the autumn of 1871,
Cassatt’s prospects had brightened. Her painting Two Women Throwing Flowers
During Carnival was well received in the Salon of 1872, and was purchased. She
attracted much favorable notice in Parma and was supported and encouraged by the
art community there, “All Parma is talking of Miss Cassatt and her picture, and
everyone is anxious to know her”. 
After completing her commission for the archbishop, Cassatt traveled to Madrid
and Seville, where she painted a group of paintings of Spanish subjects,
including Spanish Dancer Wearing a Lace Mantilla (1873, in the National Museum
of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). In 1874, she made the decision to
take up residence in France. She was joined by her sister Lydia who shared an
apartment with her. Cassatt continued to express criticism of the politics of
the Salon and the conventional taste that prevailed there. She was blunt in her
comments, as reported by Sartain, “she is entirely too slashing, snubs all
modern art, disdains the Salon pictures of Cabanel, Bonnat, all the names we are
used to revere”. Cassatt saw that works by female artists were often
dismissed with contempt unless the artist had a friend or protector on the jury,
and she would not flirt with jurors to curry favor. Her cynicism grew when
one of the two pictures she submitted in 1875 was refused by the jury, only to
be accepted the following year after she darkened the background. She had
quarrels with Sartain, who thought Cassatt too outspoken and self-centered, and
eventually they parted. Out of her distress and self-criticism, Cassatt decided
that she needed to move away from genre paintings and onto more fashionable
subjects, in order to attract portrait commissions from American socialites
abroad, but that attempt bore little fruit at first. 
In 1877, both her entries were rejected, and for the first time in seven years
she had no works in the Salon. At this low point in her career she was
invited by Edgar Degas to show her works with the Impressionists, a group that
had begun their own series of independent exhibitions in 1874 with much
attendant notoriety. The Impressionists (also known as the “Independents” or
“Intransigents”) had no formal manifesto and varied considerably in subject
matter and technique. They tended to prefer open air painting and the
application of vibrant color in separate strokes with little pre-mixing, which
allows the eye to merge the results in an “impressionistic” manner. The
Impressionists had been receiving the wrath of the critics for several years.
Henry Bacon, a friend of the Cassatts, thought that the Impressionists were so
radical that they were “afflicted with some hitherto unknown disease of the
eye”. They already had one female member, artist Berthe Morisot, who became
Cassatt’s friend and colleague.
Degas, Portrait of Miss Cassatt, Seated, Holding Cards, c. 1876-1878, oil on
canvasCassatt admired Degas, whose pastels had made a powerful impression on her
when she encountered them in an art dealer's window in 1875. "I used to go and
flatten my nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art," she
later recalled. "It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it."
She accepted Degas' invitation with enthusiasm, and began preparing paintings
for the next Impressionist show, planned for 1878, which (after a postponement
because of the World’s Fair) took place on April 10, 1879. She felt comfortable
with the Impressionists and joined their cause enthusiastically, “we are
carrying on a despairing fight & need all our forces”. Unable to attend
cafes with them without attracting unfavorable attention, she met with them
privately and at exhibitions. She now hoped for commercial success selling
paintings to the sophisticated Parisians who preferred the avant-garde. Her
style had gained a new spontaneity during the intervening two years. Previously
a studio-bound artist, she had adopted the practice of carrying a sketchbook
with her to record the scenes she saw, out-of-doors and at the theater. 
Summertime, c. 1894, oil on canvasIn 1877, Cassatt was joined in Paris by her
father and mother, who returned with her sister Lydia. Mary valued their
companionship, as neither she nor Lydia had married. Mary had decided early in
life that marriage would be incompatible with her career. Lydia, who was
frequently painted by her sister, suffered from recurrent bouts of illness, and
her death in 1882 left Cassatt temporarily unable to work.
Cassatt’s father insisted that her studio and supplies be covered by her sales,
which were still meager. Afraid of having to paint “potboilers” (sentimental
themes for quick money) to make ends meet, Cassatt applied herself to produce
some quality paintings for the next Impressionist exhibition. Three of her most
accomplished works from 1878 were Portrait of the Artist (self-portrait), Little
Girl in a Blue Armchair, and Reading Le Figaro (portrait of her mother).
Degas had considerable influence on Cassatt. She became extremely proficient in
the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this
medium. Degas also introduced her to copper engraving, of which he was a
recognized master, which strengthened her control of line and overall
draftsmanship. She became the subject in his series of etchings recording their
trips to the Louvre. They worked side-by-side for awhile, and she gained
considerably from his technique and knowledge. She had strong feelings for him
but learned not to expect too much from his fickle and temperamental nature. The
sophisticated and well-dressed Degas, then forty-five, was a welcome dinner
guest at the Cassatt residence. 
The Impressionist exhibit of 1879 was the most successful to date, actually
making a profit for each member and saving the group from the “profound
desolation” which had reigned “in the Impressionist camp”. The success came
despite the absence of Renoir, Sisley, Manet and Cezanne, who were attempting
once again to gain recognition at the Salon. Through the efforts of Gustave
Caillebotte, who organized and underwrote the show, the group made a profit and
sold many works, although the criticism continued as harsh as ever. The Revue
des Deux Mondes wrote, “M. Degas and Mlle. Cassatt are, nevertheless, the only
artists who distinguish themselves…and who offer some attraction and some excuse
in the pretentious show of window dressing and infantile daubing”. 
Cassatt displayed eleven works, including La Loge. Although critics claimed that
Cassatt’s colors were too bright and that her portraits were too accurate to be
flattering to the subjects, her work was not savaged as was Monet's, whose
circumstances were the most desperate of all the Impressionists at that time.
She used her share of the profits to purchase a work by Degas and one by Monet.
She exhibited in the Impressionist Exhibitions that followed in 1880 and
1881, and she remained an active member of the Impressionist circle until 1886.
In 1886, Cassatt provided two paintings for the first Impressionist exhibition
in the United States, organized by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Her friend
Louisine Elder married Harry Havemeyer in 1883, and with Cassatt as advisor, the
couple began collecting the Impressionists on a grand scale. Much of their vast
collection is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She
also made several portraits of family members during that period, of which
Portrait of Alexander Cassatt and His Son Robert Kelso (1885) is one of her best
regarded. Cassatt’s style then evolved, and she moved away from Impressionism to
a simpler, more straightforward approach. She began to exhibit her works in New
York galleries as well. After 1886, Cassatt no longer identified herself with
any art movement and experimented with a variety of techniques.
Cassatt's popular reputation is based on an extensive series of rigorously
drawn, tenderly observed, yet largely unsentimental paintings and prints on the
theme of the mother and child. The earliest dated work on this subject is the
drypoint Gardner Held by His Mother (an impression inscribed "Jan/88" is in the
New York Public Library), although she had painted a few earlier works on
the theme. Some of these works depict her own relatives, friends, or clients,
although in her later years she generally used professional models in
compositions that are often reminiscent of Italian Renaissance depictions of the
Madonna and Child. After 1900, she concentrated almost exclusively on
In 1891, she exhibited a series of highly original colored drypoint and aquatint
prints, including Woman Bathing and The Coiffure, inspired by the Japanese
masters shown in Paris the year before. (See Japonism) Cassatt was attracted to
the simplicity and clarity of Japanese design, and the skillful use of blocks of
color. In her intrepretation, she used primarily light, delicate pastel colors
and avoided black (a “forbidden” color among the Impressionists). A. Breeskin,
of the Smithsonian Institution, notes that these colored prints, “now stand as
her most original contribution… adding a new chapter to the history of graphic
arts…technically, as color prints, they have never been surpassed”.
The Child's Bath (The Bath) by Mary Cassatt, 1893, oil on canvas, Art Institute
of ChicagoThe 1890s were Cassatt's busiest and most creative time. She had
matured considerably and became more diplomatic and less blunt in her opinions.
She also became a role model for young American artists who sought her advice.
Among them was Lucy A. Bacon, whom Cassatt introduced to Camille Pissarro.
Though the Impressionist group disbanded, Cassatt still had contact with some of
the members, including Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro.  As the new century
arrived, she served as an advisor to several major art collectors and stipulated
that they eventually donate their purchases to American art museums. Although
instrumental in advising the American collectors, recognition of her art came
more slowly in the United States. Even among her family members back in America,
she received little recognition and was totally overshadowed by her famous
Mary Cassatt's brother, Alexander Cassatt, (president of the Pennsylvania
Railroad from 1899 until his death) died in 1906. She was shaken, as they had
been close, but she continued to be very productive in the years leading up to
1910. An increasing sentimentality is apparent in her work of the 1900s; her
work was popular with the public and the critics, but she was no longer breaking
new ground, and her Impressionist colleagues who once provided stimulation and
criticism were dying off. She was hostile to such new developments in art as
post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism.
A trip to Egypt in 1910 impressed Cassatt with the beauty of its ancient art,
but was followed by a crisis of creativity; not only had the trip exhausted her,
but she declared herself "crushed by the strength of this Art", saying, "I
fought against it but it conquered, it is surely the greatest Art the past has
left us ... how are my feeble hands to ever paint the effect on me."
Diagnosed with diabetes, rheumatism, neuralgia, and cataracts in 1911, she did
not slow down, but after 1914 she was forced to stop painting as she became
almost blind. Nonetheless, she took up the cause of women's suffrage, and in
1915, she showed eighteen works in an exhibition supporting the movement.
In recognition of her contributions to the arts, France awarded her the Légion
d'honneur in 1904.
She died on June 14, 1926 at Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, and was buried
in the family vault at Mesnil-Théribus, France.
As of 2005, her paintings have sold for as much as $2.87 million.
^ Nancy Mowll Mathews, Mary Cassatt: A Life, Villard Books, New York, 1994, p.
5, ISBN 0-394-58497-X.
^ Perlman, Bennard B., Robert Henri: His Life and Art, page 1. Dover, 1991.
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 11
^ Robin McKown, The World of Mary Cassatt, Thomas Y. Crowell Co. , New York,
1972, pp. 10-12, ISBN 0-690-90274-3
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 26
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 18
^ McKown, 1974, p. 16
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 29
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 31
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 31
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 32
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 54
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 47
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 54
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 32
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 75
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 74
^ McKown, 1974, p. 36
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 76
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 79
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 87
^ Mathews, 1998, pp. 104-105
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 96
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 100
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 107
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 114
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 118
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 125.
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 163
^ McKown, 1974, pp. 63-64
^ McKown, 1974, p. 73
^ McKown, 1974, pp. 72-73
^ Mathews, 1994, p. 167
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 182 and note, p. 346
^ National Museum of American Art, 1985, p. 106
^ McKown, 1974, pp. 124-126.
^ McKown, 1974, p. 155.
^ McKown, 1974, p. 182.
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 281
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 284
^ Mathews, 1998, p. 291
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The most widely recognized female painter connected with
Impressionism. Mary Cassatt was also the artistic bridge between American
collectors and the French Impressionists.
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Mary Cassatt: Modern
... Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman. The Art Institute of Chicago is proud to present
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Cassatt, Mary. (b. May 22, 1844, Allegheny City, Pa.,
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... Mary Cassatt. [American Impressionist Painter, 1844-1926]
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