Mary Cassatt, A Great Lady Of Impressionism

He reflected like no one everyday scenes of his time starring women. Mary Cassatt also introduced Impressionism to the United States.
Mary Cassatt, a great lady of impressionism

Monet, Degas or Renoir resonate again and again when talking about impressionist painters. However, in this age, women also have a crucial role. Creators such as Berthe Morisot or Marie Bracquemond developed their work within this movement. Together with Mary Cassatt, who we are going to talk about, they will be known as ‘the great ladies of impressionism’.

Cassatt’s work is essential to approach this style of the late nineteenth century. Therefore, we are going to delve into his life and, of course, his palette. Do not miss it.

Early life of Mary Cassatt

Self-portrait of Mary Cassatt
‘Self-portrait’

He was born in Pennsylvania on May 22, 1844, into a wealthy family of French origin. Your mother will be vital in your upbringing and will be a great influence. In fact, Cassatt’s line-up is littered with trips to Europe during his childhood and youth. These journeys will lead to the first contacts with art, contemplating works by Delacroix or Ingres.

Immediately, he begins studying at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, despite opposition from his father. Since the students were forbidden to use natural models, Mary Cassatt begins to feel frustrated at the slow progress of her work.

The transfer to Paris

Painting 'In the box'
‘In the box’

It will be this situation that will motivate her to abandon her studies and move to Paris in 1866. There she is accepted by the painter Gérôme as a student for private lessons, learning from his realistic and orientalist palette.

Cassatt made copies daily at the Louvre and interacted with other artists. Shortly after, as a disciple of Thomas Couture, she began to deal with more romantic themes and to draw outdoors.

Finally, in 1868 one of his canvases was accepted for exhibition at the Paris Salon. Mary Cassatt will be one of the first women to do so. At the moment, the Parisian atmosphere is about to change: Manet dreams of breaking academic norms and the Impressionists are beginning to form.

However, initially, Cassatt will not join in this change and will continue to exhibit at the Show. After a brief period in the United States in which he fell into a creative crisis, he returned again to his beloved Europe.

The awakening of the brushstroke of Mary Cassatt

Painting 'Party in a boat'
‘Party on a boat’

In 1871, with her return to Europe, the painter’s luck changed. Suddenly, he begins to attract the attention of the public and the critics begin to talk about his work. Cassatt travels to Italy and soon after will live  in Spain for six months, mainly in Madrid and Seville. This experience ends up opening your eyes and will have a huge influence on your painting.

The local reality and the Spanish customs make his brushwork loose, that the color contrasts are released. This is why he will abandon academicism, his work becomes spontaneous, in the purest impressionist style.

Consolidation in the impressionist group

After returning to Paris in 1874, Mary Cassatt decided to settle permanently there and open a studio. The painter constantly criticized the Salon’s attitude and policy towards female artists, who hardly had a chance. In 1877, and after several refusals to exhibit her work, Edgar Degas invited her to show her canvases to the Impressionists.

Tea, 1880 / Wikimedia Commons

The group already had in its ranks Berthe Morisot, who will become a good friend of Mary Cassatt. In addition, you will be totally fascinated by the Degas palette. Immediately, you will feel identified with the impressionist style, becoming a great defender of the cause.

Cassatt and Degas collaborated closely for years. He will teach her pastel painting and printmaking, while she brought her works to America. Thus, a unique artistic relationship will be forged between these two creators of modern human figures. Mary Cassatt will be successful in the various Impressionist exhibitions, especially in 1879.

Likewise, she  is considered the main responsible for introducing Impressionism in the United States, where she landed with more than 300 paintings by Manet, Degas or Monet in 1886. Little by little, Mary Cassatt’s palette evolves, not identifying herself with any movement in concrete.

He begins to deal more with art dealers and exhibits their works in New York and Chicago. However, in 1915 her delicate health and her inevitable blindness due to the cataracts she suffered forced her to stop painting. But earlier, Cassatt supported the suffrage movement with his latest works. He died in France on June 14, 1926.

Theme and essential works of Mary Cassatt

The artist focused on portraying the everyday life of women in the late 19th century. He was never interested in the themes of landscape and nature, typical of Impressionism.

Picture 'Mother and daughter'
‘Mother and daughter’

Cassatt is a true chronicler of her time : mothers and children in their daily routine, ordinary domestic scenes, etc. Recreations that seem to give voice to women confined to their homes, destined solely to raise their children, without playing any other role. She will be the one who makes them immortal.

These are intimate settings, full of tenderness and beauty. They are spontaneous creations full of truth in which we admire Mary Cassatt’s ease and skill.

His most outstanding works include The Boy’s Bath  (1893), which we can admire at the Art Institute of Chicago. Also noteworthy are Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878) and  Party in a Boat (1893), both belonging to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

In addition, some of his best canvases can be found at the MET in New York. This is the case of Young mother sewing  (1900) or  Mother and child (The oval mirror)  (1899), among others.

The Musée d'Orsay: the works you cannot miss

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