-She was the first popularly recognized American female artist.
-She never married.
-She backed the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century.
Mary Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, as one of seven children born to Robert Simpson Cassatt and Katherine Kelso Johnston Cassatt. Her family was well-to-do family of wealth. Her father was successful as a stockbroker and land speculator. Her mother came from a successful banking family.
Mary began attending school in Philadelphia at the age of six. However, she grew up in a world where those of financial means viewed travel as an integral part of education. Consequently, she spent five years in Europe where she learned German and French, toured the capitals of Europe – such as Berlin, London, and Paris – and was given her first lessons in drawing and music. The family set sail in June 1851 – when Mary was 7 - spending a month in London, then two years in France and another two years in Germany. During those years Mary could well have seen the Crystal Palace in London and the 1855 World’s Fair in Paris. It was in Paris that some of the artwork of Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas, both of whom would have an influence in her life and career as an artist. Degas would later say of her: “Most women paint as though they are trimming hats. Not you.”
Soon after the end of the Civil War, when Mary was twenty-two, she declared that she could learn no more in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her parents yielded and let her go back to Europe, accompanied by her mother as a chaperone. She would study the techniques of the masters throughout Europe, travelling to Rome, Seville, Antwerp, and Paris. She copied paintings to grasp the techniques used by the masters and to develop and refine her own. In 1868 one of her paintings was accepted for the first time for public display. That painting - A Mandoline Player - is today one of only two paintings that can be documented as being painted during the first decade of her artistic career.
She would return to her parents home in the United States in 1870. Her father continued to object to her chosen career by not paying for her art supplies. Mary would place two of her paintings in a New York gallery – and while many viewers made positive comments, no one bought them. Mary quickly became frustrated with the lack of the inspiration and freedom she had experienced in Europe. She used the money paid by the Archbishop of Pittsburgh for two paintings to finance her return to Europe in late 1871.
The time spent in Europe would mark her transition from Romanticist to Impressionist. Although she had some success, Mary became frustrated with the established salons and their methods of judging art – judging which created known artists and hence sales and income for that artist.
Her father was still insisting that she pay her own painting expenses, and by 1877 times were becoming difficult for Mary. Her family rejoined her, and would live in Europe for the next eighteen years. She never married, dedicating her life to her work. In 1878, she would break with the Romanticist when invited by Degas to show her paintings in an Impressionist salon. She quickly realized she had found her niche in the art world. She commented:
“I accepted with joy. At last, I could work with absolute independence without considering the opinion of a jury. I had already recognized who were my true masters. I admired Manet, Courbet, and Degas. I hated conventional art.”
LOCAL LIBRARY RESOURCES:
Mary Cassatt : DVD [videorecording] : American impressionist
Julia Carson: Mary Cassatt
Cassatt 01. Self Portrait: Wikipedia
Cassatt 02. The Mandolin Player: The Humanities Web
Cassatt 03. The Mothers Kiss (1890): National Gallery of Art
Cassatt 04. The Child’s Bath (1893): Art Institute of Chicago