Cassatt, Mary


Cassatt, Mary
born May 22, 1844, Allegheny City, Pa., U.S.
died June 14, 1926, Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, France

U.S. painter and printmaker, active in Paris.

She spent her early years traveling in Europe with her wealthy family. After attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1860–65) she later studied in Paris, copying Old Masters. In 1874 Cassatt chose Paris as her permanent residence and established her studio there. She shared with the Impressionists an interest in experiment and in the use of bright colours inspired by the out-of-doors. Edgar Degas became her friend, and at his request she exhibited with the Impressionists. She portrayed scenes of everyday life, particularly images of mothers and children, and was skilled at drawing and printmaking. Some of her best works were executed in pastel. Through her social contacts with wealthy private collectors, she promoted Impressionism in the U.S. and exerted a lasting influence on U.S. taste.

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▪ American painter
born May 22, 1844, Allegheny City [now part of Pittsburg], Pa., U.S.
died June 14, 1926, Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, France

      American painter and printmaker who exhibited with the Impressionists (Impressionism).

      Cassatt lived in Europe for five years as a young girl. She was tutored privately in art in Philadelphia and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861–65, but she preferred learning on her own and in 1866 traveled to Europe to study. Her first major showing was at the Paris Salon of 1872; four more annual Salon exhibitions followed.

      In 1874 Cassatt chose Paris as her permanent residence and established her studio there. She shared with the Impressionists an interest in experiment and in using bright colours inspired by the out-of-doors. Edgar Degas (Degas, Edgar) became her friend; his style and that of Gustave Courbet (Courbet, Gustave) inspired her own. Degas was known to admire her drawing especially, and at his request she exhibited with the Impressionists in 1879 and joined them in shows in 1880, 1881, and 1886. Like Degas, Cassatt showed great mastery of drawing, and both artists preferred unposed asymmetrical compositions. Cassatt also was innovative and inventive in exploiting the medium of pastels.

 Initially, Cassatt was a figure painter whose subjects were groups of women drinking tea or on outings with friends. After the great exhibition of Japanese prints held in Paris in 1890, she brought out her series of 10 coloured prints—e.g., Woman Bathing and The Coiffure—in which the influence of the Japanese masters Utamaro and Toyokuni (Utagawa Toyokuni) is apparent. In these etchings, combining aquatint, dry point, and soft ground, she brought her printmaking technique to perfection. Her emphasis shifted from form to line and pattern. Soon after 1900 her eyesight began to fail, and by 1914 she had ceased working. The principal motif of her mature and perhaps most familiar period is mothers caring for small children (see photograph—>)—e.g., The Bath (La Toilette, c. 1892; Art Institute of Chicago).

      Cassatt urged her wealthy American friends and relatives to buy Impressionist paintings, and in this way, more than through her own works, she exerted a lasting influence on American taste. She was largely responsible for selecting the works that make up the H.O. Havemeyer Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Additional Reading
Nancy Mowll Mathews, Mary Cassatt (1994), is a biography. Discussions of Cassatt's work with reproductions are E. John Bullard, Mary Cassatt: Oils and Pastels (1972); Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Graphic Work, 2nd ed., rev. (1979); and Jay Roudebush, Mary Cassatt, trans. from French (1979, reissued 1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

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