She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and then in 1865 she convinced her family to send her to Paris. There she took private lessons from academic painters since women were not allowed to study at the School of Fine Arts. Although her European art education was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war, she was later able to live in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Holland and study the works of European masters, as well as learn from local experts. She eventually settled in Paris, where her work was regularly shown at the Salon.
The American Impressionist
In 1877 Edgar Degas asked her to join the group of independent artists that were later to be know as the Impressionists. She exhibited in four of their eight exhibitions.
Cassatt was influenced by all the avante guard artists, especially by Degas, who would become a mentor. However she developed her own style and subject matter, painting scenes that related to the world of upperclass women of her era; tending to children, socializing, reading, and going to parks, cafes, plays, and the opera.
I am especially drawn to the work of Mary Cassatt because of her insightful paintings of people. She was a master in both pastel and oil. Her canvases show a mass of loose brushwork that convey a sense of movement and life, but at the same time her figures seem both solid and three dementional.
Mary Cassatt never married and had no offspring, but she clearly had an understanding of the special bond between mothers and their children, which became a specialty for her. These portraits are tender and warm, depicting intimate everyday moments without sentimentality.
In the late 1800's Japanese woodblock prints became available and were very popular for their artistic merit and their novelty. In 1890 after seeing an exhibition of Japanese prints, Cassatt began to work on a series of etchings and aquatints that have a distinctly Japanese feel. She experimented with designs that cropped and flattened the subject, creating dynamic compositions with interesting negative space. (Negative space is the shape created by the subject against a background.)
Another reason I admire Mary Cassatt's work is her use of bold, painterly brushstrokes and varying patterns and textures that support the figures in her paintings. In the painting above the textured upholstery contrasts with the girl's frilly dress, the smooth carpet, and the plaid sash and socks, while the shapes of the chairs move the viewer's eye around the painting.
In this painting I love the soft enigmatic features of the women as well as the beautifully rendered silver tea service. The texture of the wall, chair, and chair fabric all support the strong figures and convey the feeling of a comfortable bourgeois household.
A Trailblazing Artist
Mary Cassatt was a master painter in a time when it was extremely difficult for a woman to be educated in art, be financially successfully as an artist, and receive acclaim for her work. The fact that she was able to do all three is a testament to her determination, drive, and vision.
You can read more of this "My Favorite Artists" blog series here: John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Joaquín Sorolla, Fairfield Porter, Tim Horn, David Hockney.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your comments.
I'm Linda Hugues and I paint cityscapes from my travels in Europe and my home in Florida. Here on my monthly blog I write about everything related to my art life, in and out of the studio. Enjoy!