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Mary
Stevenson Cassatt was an American painter and a printmaker (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). She was born in
Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. Her father’s name was Robert Simpson Cassatt and
her mother was Katherine Kelso Johnston. Her father was a stockbroker and a speculator.
He was very successful at his profession. In addition, her mother also came
from a banking family (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica).
            Mary Cassatt’s family viewed
traveling as an important part of advancing one’s education (Mathews 1994). So,
as a result, Mary spent five years of her adult life in Europe. In addition,
she visited other places such as London, Paris and Berlin (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). While she was abroad,
Mary had her first lessons in drawing and music. While at the Paris World’s
Fair of 1855, she was first exposed to French artists such as Ingres,
Delacroix, Corot, and Courbet. Interestingly enough, Degas and Pissarro had
then later became her mentors and colleagues. Mary lived the majority of her
adult life in France. This is where she had first met her mentor, Edgar Degas (Mathews
1994).

Cassatt’s goal as an
artist was to be respected and admired for her talent as an artist. She wanted
to be able to live on the money she earned painting (World
Biography). However, these goals were difficult
to achieve.
            In
1877, Cassatt was one of three women who joined a group of artists whom were
later known as the Impressionists (Mathews 1994).  The two other women in this
group were Claude Monet and Camille Pissaro (World Biography). This artistic style included short, broken
brushstrokes and pure colors that were not blended together. This artistic
style also put an emphasis on the effects of light. While many Impressionists focused their work on landscapes and street
scenes, Mary Cassatt focused on portraits, which she had later became famous
for (World Biography). Her favorite
subjects for her art were children and women (Mathews 1994). Within her paintings,
you could see the tenderness and the love she held for children. However, she
never had children of her own. Her interest in
drawing intimate scenes of women with
children is seen vividly in her works such as Mother
About to Wash Her Sleepy Child (1880)

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 ( The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). This work was painted with quick brushstrokes in a pastel palette.

              Cassatt’s
painting style continued to change and move away from Impressionism (World
Biography). Her artistic style had then favored a
simpler, more straightforward style. In 1886, Mary had her final exhibition
with the Impressionists (Mathews 1994). After
this exhibition, she stopped identifying herself with a specific movement. She
then experimented with a variety of artistic techniques. For example, while being
influenced by Japanese prints she had collected, Mary developed a new drawing
style that was a blend of European and Asian style. An example of this new
style is The
Letter(1890), which exhibited
flattened forms and combinations of color that were in harmony with each other (Mathews
1994).
              Soon after this, Mary began
to take an interest in American artists (World Biography). In addition, at this time, she became a sponsor for other Impressionists.  As a sponsor, Mary bought her friend’s
paintings when they did not have a lot of cash. Using her connections with rich
American families, she convinced wealthy
Americans to purchase this artwork. Eventually, she became an advisor to many
collectors, with the understanding that these artworks they had purchased would
eventually find themselves in art museums in America (World Biography).

            While
in her late adult years, Mary witnessed the beginning of the modernism movement
in Europe and the United States (Mathews 1994). However, this did not affect
her artistic style. After Mary died in the 1920s, Impressionism declined (World
Biography). However, one exception to this decline was a group of women artists
that were based in Montreal, Canada, that later became known as the
“Beaver Hall Group.” This group of women was the first Canadian art
association where professional women artists, which included Mabel May, Lilias
Torrance Newton, and Prudence Heward, followed Cassatt’s example of working
closely with one another and studying abroad. In addition to influencing this
group of women, Cassatt also influenced Lucy Bacon, an artist born in California,
who studied with the Impressionists in Paris (World Biography).
            However,
Cassatt’s status in art history has been significant and influential in the
later twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Mathews 1994). She is considered
one of the most important American artists of the late 1800s(World Biography). In
addition, she has also been the focus of influential scholarship for female
artists. Mary’s work has been discussed by feminist art historians including
Griselda Pollock and Linda Nochlin. However, Cassatt’s most public legacy is
her influence on American patrons who collected her work and the work of her
European artists that was later added to museums. One example was Louisine
Elder Havemeyer, whose Impressionist artwork collection is now a part of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (World Biography).

 

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