Art for the Ages

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

American Painter and Printmaker

Mary Cassatt is an American artist who spent most of her artistic career in France. She was also an avid feminist, who stood up for women’s rights throughout her life. She is best known for her tender paintings of mothers with their children, although she never married.

Ms. Cassatt was born in Allegheny City just north of Pittsburgh. Her family was well-to-do, and one of her brothers, Alexander, later became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. She was profoundly influenced by her mother, Katherine Cassatt, who was well-educated. Her family eventually moved to Philadelphia, where Mary started her education. She was raised to regard travel as an important part of education, and visited many European countries. While overseas, she learned to speak German and French, and also learned how to draw. She was exposed to the works of prominent French artists at the Paris 1855 World’s Fair, such as Delacroix, Pissarro and Degas. This might have inspired her to enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts when she was only fifteen.

Against her father’s wishes, Mary was determined to establish a career in art. It was in the mid 1800’s, and art was widely regarded as a male-only vocation, especially in America. While attitudes were similar in France, there was a new movement spreading called “Impressionism,” which was rebelling against classical artforms, and facing strong headwinds from the artistic ruling class (almost exclusively men). Mary moved to France, and befriended a number of Impressionist painters, most notably Edgar Degas, who became a lifelong friend. She learned how to paint in a style which favored the effects of light and color, rendered with strong brushstrokes.

Mary Cassatt’s artistic career blossomed in the late 1870’s, and her work began to attract attention in the salons and galleries of Paris. They were received more slowly in America. By the 1890’s, she had established a well-respected reputation in Europe, and Americans were beginning to take notice of her work. In 1904, France awarded her the Legion of Honor in recognition of her accomplishments.

Mary painted until 1914, when she became almost blind. She died in Chateau de Beaufresne, near Paris, and was buried in France.

In America, her work now appears in several national museums. She has appeared on several U.S. postage stamps as one of the country’s great women, and the SS Mary Cassatt was a World War II Liberty Ship.

Acknowledgment goes to Wikipedia for providing much of this information.

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