Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mary Cassatt

In celebration of Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11), I thought I would tell you about a female American Impressionist who is known for her paintings of family life: Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt was an extraordinary woman. Born in 1844, she painted in a time when there were very few professional women painters. In fact, she worked in a time when women of wealthy families usually did not work. Cassatt wanted to paint. She wanted to be respected and admired for her talent as an artist. And she wanted to be able to live on the money she earned painting. These goals were difficult to achieve.

Mary Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania. She began school when she was six. Her family believed that travel was important for her education and so she lived in Europe for five years when she was a child. She visited many important cities including Paris, France and London, England. Sounds like a nice way to get an education.

Cassatt studied art at the Pennsylvania academy of Fine Arts but she was not taken seriously. There were not many women at the school and those who did study were not treated equally to the men. She left the academy and moved to Paris where she hired a painter to teach her privately.

While in Paris, Cassatt went to the Louvre everyday to copy the works of the masters. You’ll remember the picture I showed you of someone painting at the great museum.

In 1868, Cassatt showed a painting at the Paris Salon. The Paris Salon was a huge exhibition of all the most impressive paintings of the day. The art was chosen by a jury (the way the contestants on American Idol are chosen). During this time, the Impressionists were struggling in Paris. The Salon did not recognize their art and did not allow them to show at the exhibition.

Her painting did not sell at the Paris Salon and Cassatt returned home to Pennsylvania. She was frustrated and worried that she would never earn a living as an artist. But she was bored at home and itched to return to Europe to view the art and to create her own. Cassatt’s big break came when the Archbishop of Pittsburgh asked her to create copies of two paintings in Italy. He paid for her travel and supplies. When the paintings were finished, he purchased those, also.

When she was Italy, she had time to create some original paintings as well. Her painting, Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival, was accepted at the 1872 Paris Salon. This painting sold! The money allowed her to travel some more before settling in France.

Cassatt continued to show at the Paris Salon when her work was accepted by the jury. As a woman, though, she was not treated fairly and could not depend on being allowed to show her art. Finally, in 1877, Cassatt joined the Impressionists. She stood out as a fine artist and became well known throughout Paris.

One Impressionist had a huge impact on her. Edgar Degas, whose ballerina sculpture you’ll remember, taught Cassatt to use pastels. She became a master pastel artist.

Cassatt showed her work with the Impressionists for more than ten years. She was part of the first Impressionist show in America. In 1886 her style grew and changed. New styles were taking shape in the art world and Cassatt went in her own direction.

It was after her years as an Impressionist that Cassatt painted the pieces she is most known for today. Her paintings of family life and the private lives of women are realistic but the scenes are tender and loving. See for yourself:

The Child's Bath

Two Children at the Seashore
Mother Combing Her Child's Hair

Cassatt became sick but didn’t stop painting until she was nearly blind. When she couldn’t paint anymore, she worked for women’s right to vote. She died in 1926.
I'm off to New York City for the weekend to visit some friends. 'Tis the season for travel, it seems (and I love it). But not to worry. Blogger has a great new feature that posts automatically! So you can look forward to a Mother's Day project tomorrow.


Peter said...

I did not know Mary! Thanks for bringing her to my attention! I find especially the child bath impressive!

Have a nice trip to NYC!

Jessica said...

I love when I get to introduce you to new things! It's tough though. You know so much already!

I'm glad you like Cassatt. It took me a while to warm up to her but learning about her background and how much she wanted to make it as an artist helped me to appreciate her more.

Anne Veillac said...

I've just see a masterpiece of Mary Cassatt at the french exhibition "les enfants modèles". Very nice to see other paintings.
From Anne (from Paris)

Anne Veillac said...

I've just see a masterpiece of Mary Cassatt at the french exhibition "les enfants modèles". Very nice to see other paintings.
From Anne (from Paris)

cute said...

i relly like all thses paintings. i love Mary's work i am doing a project on her.

cute said...

i love Mary.i love all her paintings.i love her so much i am doing a project on her.