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Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Cassatt, Mary
(1844-1926)
Specialty: Paintings
View Artwork
Despite her American birth, Mary Cassatt is widely seen as a seminal
figure in French Impressionism, though her contribution to the spread of
Impressionism in American art circles cannot be underestimated. At the
1937 exhibition, "Leaders of American Impressionism", John I. H. Baur, a
leading art scholar, declared that Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam were
"pioneer Impressionists" who had "contributed most to the inauguration and
development of Impressionism in America ".

Mary Cassatt was born May 22, 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. The
Cassatts were both socially and financially prominent as well as
peripatetic, moving frequently (though always in the best circles), which
included living in Europe for 4 years during Mary's childhood. In 1855,
they returned to Philadelphia and, a few years later, just before her 16th
birthday, Mary, determined to become a professional artist, enrolled in
the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1865, she
convinced her reluctant father to allow her to go to Paris to continue her
training. Women were refused admission to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux
Arts, so Mary obtained lessons from the most sought-after artist/teacher
in Paris, Jean-Leon Gerome. Gerome grounded Cassatt in the academic style,
which favored detailed draftsmanship and historical or genre paintings.
Cassatt quickly mastered it and first had a painting accepted by the
Salon, the official juried exhibition of the French art establishment, in
1868, a feat she repeated every year the Salon was held through 1876. Over
that period, she briefly returned to America during the Franco-Prussian
War in 1870-71, but in 1875 settled in France for the rest of her life.

As Cassatt continued to experiment, she became frustrated with the
restrictions of the academic formula. In 1877, a mutual friend introduced
her to Edgar Degas, each artist having expressed admiration of the other's
work. Degas invited Cassatt to participate in the next Impressionist
exhibition. Thereafter, she became a part of their group, both socially
and artistically. In the early days, critics tended to see her as Degas's
protege and imitator; however, though they were close friends and artistic
colleagues, their styles and subject matter differed significantly, a fact
that became more apparent as each continued to develop in his/her own
unique direction. Cassatt became best-known for her paintings of mothers
and children as well as becoming one of the finest printmakers of her
time. Her work was characterized by fine draftsmanship, a vivid palette,
and a lack of sentimentality. In addition, her efforts in the area of
collecting were responsible for the large body of significant
Impressionist paintings that found their way to America, particularly in
the Havemeyer collection, most of which was personally selected by
Cassatt.

Unfortunately, in her later years, Cassatt's eyesight faded significantly
despite several corrective operations and she was unable to paint for the
last decade of her life. Never married, she retired to her French country
estate at Beaufresne where she died on June 14, 1926, ending a celebrated
career as both a great artist and a feminist icon.

Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections