Mary Cassatt

Birth Year : 1845

Death Year : 1927

Country : US

Mary Cassatt, one of the two women and the only American to show with the Impressionists, was born in Pittsburgh. She was the daughter of a millionaire and spent her childhood in Europe with her family. When the Cassatt’s returned to live in Philadelphia, Mary studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art until she was twenty-three. Then, against her father’s wishes, she left for Europe to study further and visit Italy, Spain, and Belgium before going to Paris where, as she said, the sight of a pastel by Degas changed her life. It was through Degas, who was more her sponsor than her teacher, that she delighted to be relieved of the arbitrary standards established for acceptance at the official Salons. Cassatt scrupulously separated her social life from her artistic one and was in some ways aloof from the relaxed artistic atmosphere around her.

Her subject matter was thus restricted to the ladylike pastimes and scenes with which she was generally surrounded, but her technique and power were by no means limited. She was a fine artist in her favorite mediums: oil, pastel, etching, and lithography. Her work has the intellectualized emotion of Degas; the soft contours of Renoir, (particularly in her many renderings of children and mothers), and the flat surface of Manet. In addition, she was strongly influenced by Japanese prints and she was extremely adept at handling large color masses while she achieved the Oriental quality of cleanliness with a sure and incisive draughtsmanship. By far the wealthiest and the most financially influential of the Impressionists, Cassett did a great deal, unobtrusively, to help her associates. Not only did she purchase many of their works for herself, but she also encouraged her friends, the Havemeyers and the Stillmans, to collect Impressionist art and, when conditions were desperate, she even loaned money to the Durand-Ruel Gallery to promote an exhibition. Cassatt, who received very little recognition in her own country until long after her death, lived and worked in France throughout her life and was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1904.