Mary Cassatt, (born May 22, 1844,
Allegheny City [now part of Pittsburgh], Pennsylvania, U.S.—died
June 14, 1926, Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, France), American
painter and printmaker who was part of the group of Impressionists
working in and around Paris. She took as her subjects almost
exclusively women and children.
Cassatt was the daughter of a
banker and lived in Europe for five years as a young girl. She was
tutored privately in art in Philadelphia and attended the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861–65, but she preferred
a less academic approach and in 1866 traveled to Europe to study
with such European painters as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Thomas Couture.
Her first major showing was at the Paris Salon of 1872; four more
annual Salon exhibitions followed.
In 1874 Cassatt chose Paris as her
permanent residence and established her studio there. She shared
with the Impressionists an interest in experiment and in using
bright colours inspired by the out-of-doors. Edgar Degas became her
friend; his style and that of Gustave Courbet inspired her own.
Degas was known to admire her drawing especially, and at his request
she exhibited with the Impressionists in 1879 and joined them in
shows in 1880, 1881, and 1886. Like Degas, Cassatt showed great
mastery of drawing, and both artists preferred unposed asymmetrical
compositions. Cassatt also was innovative and inventive in
exploiting the medium of pastels.
Initially, Cassatt painted mostly
figures of friends or relatives and their children in the
Impressionist style. After the great exhibition of Japanese prints
held in Paris in 1890, she brought out her series of 10 coloured
prints—e.g., Woman Bathing and The Coiffure—in which the influence
of the Japanese masters Utamaro and Toyokuni is apparent. In these
etchings, combining aquatint, drypoint, and soft ground, she brought
her printmaking technique to perfection. Her emphasis shifted from
form to line and pattern. The principal motif of her mature and
perhaps most familiar period is mothers caring for small
children—e.g., The Bath (c. 1892) and Mother and Child (1899). In
1894 she purchased a château in Le Mesnil-Théribus and thereafter
split her time between her country home and Paris. Soon after 1900
her eyesight began to fail, and by 1914 she had ceased working.
Cassatt urged her wealthy American
friends and relatives to buy Impressionist paintings, and in this
way, more than through her own works, she exerted a lasting
influence on American taste. She was largely responsible for
selecting the works that make up the H.O. Havemeyer Collection in
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Ellen Mary Cassatt in a White Coat
Woman at her Toilette
The Cup of Tea
Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped
Portrait Of Alexander Cassatt
Portrait of a Lady
Portrait of a Woman Dressed for