Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Historic American Painting and Printmaking
Mary Cassatt was born in Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. Growing up in Philadelphia, Cassatt studied art sporadically at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In her early twenties, she traveled to Europe to get further training. Her most influential teachers were "Old Masters" whose work she studied at the Louvre, and Edgar Degas, her mentor and friend. Cassatt was intrigued by the contemporary French Barbizon and Impressionist art she viewed in Paris; she especially appreciated the naturalism of Gustave Courbet, as well as the unconventional compositions of Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas.
In 1872, on her return to Europe after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Cassatt traveled to Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland. Her work of this period shows that she greatly admired the paintings of not only Diego Velazquez and Peter Paul Rubens, but also Manet. Her group of paintings executed in the early 1870s, and exhibited at the 1874 Salon exhibition, caught the eye of Edgar Degas, who introduced her to the French Impressionists in 1877. Adopting French Impressionist techniques, Cassatt developed her own specialty of every-day subject matter. Cassatt drew her subject matter from her own family and home environment. Her parents, her sister Lydia, and her nieces and nephews became her favorite subjects, and the theme of children and mothers became her signature. The freshness, immediacy, and veracity of her oils produced throughout her working life is also evident in her pastels, drawings, and watercolors.
Cassatt was the only American who was invited to show work with the group who exhibited under the name, Societé Anonyme. Cassatt regularly exhibited her work with the French Impressionists, contributing paintings in 1879, 1880, 1881, and to the last exhibition in 1886. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, her style changed. As a result of seeing an exhibition of Japanese prints in Paris, Cassatt abandoned her Impressionist brush stroke and high-keyed color, and began to emphasize flattened form and asymmetric design. In the 1890s, Cassatt produced an extraordinary body of color prints. In individual prints, her technique was to combine techniques -- drypoint, aquatint, and etching, together with hand-applied color. Innovative in technique, non-traditional in point of view and composition, her prints are historically significant contributions in the evolution of print-making. Flat pattern, silhouetted forms, shallow and flattened space are characteristic of her work of the 1890s. Cassatt remained in France, and continued painting until cataracts robbed her of sight in 1914.
Cassatt is recognized, not only for her major contributions in the history of painting and print-making, but also for her considerable influence in shaping American taste. She advised several of her friends who were interested in collecting art, including the Havemeyers. The Havemeyer collection, which includes many paintings by Cassatt and Degas, was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a cornerstone of that museum's first-rate collection of French Impressionist art.
Selected Permanent Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago
Cleveland Museum of Art
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery, Washington, D. C.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
See: Adelyn D. Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings, Washington, D. C., 1970; Adelyn D. Breeskin, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Graphic Work, 2nd ed., rev., Washington, D. C., 1979; Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1975; Nancy Mowll Mathews, Mary Cassatt, New York, 1987; Nancy Mowll Mathews, Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints, exh. cat., Williamstown Massachusetts, Williams College Museum of Art, 1989