Mary Cassatt- Impressionist

Mary Cassatt- Self Portrait (1878)
Mary Cassatt- Self Portrait (1878)

Mary Cassatt

The families of Robert and Katherine Cassatt had been American pioneers for generations before the two married, but the newlyweds, unlike their forebearers had something different in mind. As members of Pennsylvania's upper class they moved freely throughout the state at will. They belonged to the best establishments, moved in the highest social circles, and made sure that their children were educated by the best governesses, tutors, and private schools available. They had it all, but they wanted more, and what they wanted was to travel Europe, to mingle with its upper class, and to expose their children to the culture they felt was missing in their homeland.

The Cassatt's had seven children. Sadly, two didn't survive infancy. It must have been difficult to later lose another, a daughter named Mary, to the country of France. Mary fell in love during the journey she began at the age of seven, a journey she took with her family. She loved to travel; she loved to tour the galleries and museums they frequented, but most of all she came to love Paris and all of the art that came with it. Mary could have had anything her heart desired, but what she wanted was something that her parents couldn't give her. What she wanted was to paint, to become an artist, to make a living and to independently support herself. She was in essence a rebel. "Ladies" didn't support themselves, they did not become artists, nor did they leave home to study art in foreign countries, but Mary did, and because she did we have been blessed with some of the most beautiful art ever created. Mary Cassatt lived in France for a large portion of her life, but she was an American artist, and I believe she's done us proud.






THE LONDON SKYLINE
THE LONDON SKYLINE
THE LIGHTS OF PARIS
THE LIGHTS OF PARIS
AN EVENING IN BERLIN
AN EVENING IN BERLIN
PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS NOW AND THEN
PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS NOW AND THEN
PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS
PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS

Wandering With Purpose

Can you imagine living at a time when freethinking, financially able parents had the opportunity to model their belief that the education and experiences gained through travel were just as important as formal education? That travel itself was seen as an integral key to obtaining knowledge, and as important as opening a book? My parents were firm believers in family travel; they believed in the importance of our time spent together; they believed in exposing my brother and I to as many things as possible, and they believed that those things broadened the horizons of what would otherwise have been a very small world, but they believed this during the summer.

I too am guilty of the "experience bug," but unlike my parents I took the opportunites when they came and tended to travel sporadically. The many places I've been with my children were not vacations, they were events, and they were excuses; I got to travel because my son plays hockey. He's twenty now, and he's still my excuse.

What I called "family field trips," were a regular occurrence during the years I raised my children. Art and Museum exhibits, the yearly dog show, the Botanical Gardens, and yes, the zoo; they call to me regularly and I find them irresistible. My children were marked absent more than once during their years in grade school for the "family field trip." I believe in exposing children to readily available culture; we may not be able to travel Europe; we may not even be able to travel across the country we live in, but we can experience the many things found within our own states, our own cities, and even our own neighborhoods. Note, that I never lied to their teachers, never claimed they were sick, or that I couldn't schedule the "appointment" for another time. I told the truth, and their absences were marked as unexcused, but I wouldn't trade even one of those trips for a perfect attendance award; I'll take the memories.

The Cassatts' family field trip took place over a five year span during which the family made their way through Europe, stopping to visit many of its capitals along the way. London, Paris, and Berlin were favorite destinations, and at some point during their travels both Germany and France were called home. Mary loved her time in Europe, and during the periods that the family settled down she was kept busy with lessons in drawing and music, in addition to acquiring proficiency in both the German and French languages

Upon their return, Mary was enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her enrollment was considered whimsical, and her family supported her desire to attend as if it were a hobby, a simple indulgence to a much loved child. Soon, her family would understand that her whims would not be so easily overlooked, that art was not just a hobby to their daughter, it was a way of life.

THE WORK OF A YOUNG MARY- PAINTING OF HER FATHER ON HORSEBACK (1855)
THE WORK OF A YOUNG MARY- PAINTING OF HER FATHER ON HORSEBACK (1855)

The Birth of an Artist

Mary spent four years studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; a time that must have been quite the escape for a young girl living in a country torn a part by war; the Civil War.

Mary's war was quite another thing. Although her days were filled with the joy of creativity, her homelife was in itself a battle. Her parents were concerned about what seemed to be Mary's constant exposure to feminist ideas; they abhored the bohemian behavior of the friends (male) she made at school, and they were worried about the male to female ratio of the academy's students. The academy's enrollment was only twenty percent female. Needless to say, her aspirations weren't embraced, and her relationship with her father became strained, but eventually Daddy's girl got her way. Speaking from experience, the poor man never had a chance!

Her move to Paris was inevitable, and in 1866 her father finally caved in and supported her move across the ocean. Her mother accompanied her, as her chaperone.

Paris

Once in Paris, Mary found that things weren't going to be quite as easy as she'd imagined. Unable to attend the esteemed Ecole de Beaux-Arts because she was a woman, Mary was forced to take private lessons from the school's masters, but these lessons weren't a given as a student had to both apply and be accepted by the masters individually.

Her acceptance to study with the renown, Jean-Leon Gerome was a dream come true, and Mary, although thrilled to be studying under his guidance enhanced her training by doing copy work at the Louvre. Copying was popular amongst women as it enabled them to make a few dollars with their art; it also required a permit.

For two years, Mary studied with some of the world's most respected artists; Gerome, Chaplin, and Couture to name a few. She traveled the countryside for inspiration, honed the skill of drawing from life, and she continued to embrace the traditional style of her mentors. Change was on the horizon, and the art world was becoming what Cassatt's best friend Eliza Haldeman would describe as, "artists are leaving the Academy style and each seeking a new way, consequently just now everything is Chaos." But finally, in 1872, after numerous submissions of her paintings, A Mandolin Player, was accepted by the selection jury for the Paris Salon. She had fulfilled yet another aspiration.


THE BALCONY
THE BALCONY
A SEVILLE BELLE
A SEVILLE BELLE
THE BULLFIGHTER
THE BULLFIGHTER
DEGAS' DANCE CLASS (1874)
DEGAS' DANCE CLASS (1874)

Impressionism

Cassatt spent much of her time in Paris, but she also indulged in long absences during which she traveled around Europe; visiting and studying in places like Parma, Rome and Seville. Her style of painting was traditional, but it was also daring, and most of her paintings from this time period were slightly adveturesome for a woman, but Cassatt wasn't just any woman.

The subject of her art was far from serious, and her depictions were those of women flirting (uh oh), tossing flowers, and even sitting down to share a glass of refreshment with a dangerous bullfighter. Traveling provided revelations in regards to subject matter, and although she continued to travel she finally made Paris her official home in 1874.

1874, was also the year that Mary Cassatt began a relationship that would last a lifetime. One day, while perusing a gallery window she stopped dead in her tracks to take in the sight of one of the most beautiful paintings she'd ever seen. It was a painting of dancers, ballet dancers to be precise, all aglow in bold pastels; she was smitten. The artist was Edgar Degas, and she described her introduction to both his work and the art of impressionism in this way, "I saw art as I wanted to see it. I began to live."

Later that year, Degas saw one of Mary's entries at the French Academy Salon, and as entranced as she'd been by his dancers, he was duly taken with her work as well. His invitation that she join the impressionists was not only an honor she didn't refuse; it was a challenge she couldn't resist. Cassatt was disenchanted with the salon; she needed a change, and this group of unconventional rebels would give her both. Mary Cassatt was the only American whose work would appear alongside those of Degas, Monet, Morisot, and Pissarro during Impressionist exhibitions shown between the years of 1879 to 1886, better yet, she was an American woman.

Mothers and Children


Cassatt's early work in impressionism addressed the world of the "ordinary" woman. Her subjects weren't poor and they weren't rich; they were simply the middle class women that most people could relate to. Ordinary, everyday activities were stressed; a visit to the theatre, sitting in the garden, tea with friends, the task of sewing, or the indulgence of simply reading a book, even better a newspaper.




Later, in the 1890's her work becomes more symbolic; she wishes to send a message, make a statement, and she does, beautifully. Never married, Cassatt became fascinated by things she'd never experienced and an advocate of childcare. Her painting focused on children, babies, the love and warmth between a mother and child; the necessity of a mother's all knowing eyes. The innocence of her art captured the tenderness and intimacy of motherhood, something she would never experience, but something she held with utmost respect. It amazes me that Cassatt more often than not chose models for her depictions, but who am I to be amazed? Her depictions are heartwarming.

Printmaking

In 1890, Cassatt attended a show in Paris that exhibited Japonism. She admired the way the artists used blocks of color in the creation of Japanese designs, and she wanted to create her own individual style in the use of this medium in a way that would both compliment and preserve the simple clarity of its originators.


Her version of the art contained light colors and focused on pastels. Immersing herself in creativity she produced the prints that some call her greatest contribution to the world of art; a type of graphic art that has yet to be surpassed.

Later Life

The year 1910 found Mary taking an unforgettable trip to Egypt, and art, as always became the ultimate purpose of her journey whether she wanted it to or not. Her time in Egypt left her with a surge of creativity that would never be realized. Upon her return to France she found herself battling a variety of physical illnesses; she was also beaten down by the one form of art she wasn't able to conquer, an art that in the end she believed to have conquered her. She felt that the beauty she'd seen on that last trip to Egypt was the best that the past had to offer, that it could never be reproduced, that it was in fact the "greatest art."

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE- HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I KISSED MY CHILDREN LIKE THIS? A SMALL HUG AND A PECK ON THE SHOULDER...... I THINK THAT SAYS IT ALL..........
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE- HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I KISSED MY CHILDREN LIKE THIS? A SMALL HUG AND A PECK ON THE SHOULDER...... I THINK THAT SAYS IT ALL..........
Chateau de Beaufresne (Mary's Castle)
Chateau de Beaufresne (Mary's Castle)
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt died on June 14, 1926, and although she suffered from a number of illnesses including diabetes she continued to paint through the year 1914. Her art ended with the failing of her eyesight, but yet it continued as in 1915 she showed 18 of her paintings at an exhibition supporting women's suffrage. She also spent an large amount of her retirement mentoring young American artists and advising American collectors.



In her own words;



'I have touched with a sense of art some people – they felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist?'

Mary Cassatt

PHOTO SENT TO ME BY HUBCRAFTER- THANK YOU!
PHOTO SENT TO ME BY HUBCRAFTER- THANK YOU!

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Comments 36 comments

sarovai profile image

sarovai 6 years ago

Narration is good. And must see art. Thank u for sharing.


G L Strout profile image

G L Strout 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

What a wonderful article. I really enjoyed the paintings you chose to use. You are an inspiration to me. Thanks.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

Fascinating Hub. Well written & well presented. Thank you for the education.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

sarovai- thank you and you are very welcome!

Kaie


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

G L Strout- Thank you for stopping by; I tried to choose paintings that weren't as easily recognizable; the most famous paintings.......... we usually see those without having to look for them, and I had a great time searching for these.

Inspiration? I like that :-D

Kaie


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Ken R. Abell- Thank you, I appreciate the compliments!

Kaie


maven101 profile image

maven101 6 years ago from Northern Arizona

Kaie...Very interesting and complimentary portrait of Cassatt, one of my favorite artists...Not so much for her impressionist offerings ( although " Girl arranging her Hair " is one of my favorites ), but rather for her unique contribution to art with her aquatint prints, in the Japanese style, that hang in the Smithsonian...Thank you for sharing her with us...Larry


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Larry- I was most happy to share........ she is one of my favorite artists as well. Her prints are amazing; they would have made a Hub in themselves. It baffles me that so many people don't know how esteemed she was and still is as a printmaker. Thank you for stopping by!

Kaie


Ign Andy profile image

Ign Andy 6 years ago from Green Home Office

Monet is the master of impressionism, but Cassatt has her own style. And looking at the object of her painting, it seems she's a peaceful loving person and feminine. Very interesting hub.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Ign Andy-Monet is indeed the master of impressionism; I always find it amazing that that particular group; Monet, Degas, Cassatt, and many of the others socialized on a regular basis outside of their art.

Yes, she seems to be feminine, and her depictions show that side of her personality.......... she was also a huge supporter of the women's suffrage movement, and as bohemian as the men when she wanted to be.

Thank you, and thanks for stopping by!

Kaie


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 6 years ago from California

kaie....thank you for this introduction to this wonderful artist. I never knew much about her and her story is interesting. I too am in love with Paris and in another life I would be living there right now!....Infact I'm planning on it one day when my children are older.....I have to say that I love the paintings with the mother and children....but the one that grabbed me most was the one with the woman in the chair, her back to us with her dog in her lap......something about it brings me great calm......Anyway all the best, G


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

GPAGE- I've never been to Paris........... maybe someday, but I've certainly been to many places that I could see myself never leaving. I hope you get that wish!

The woman in the garden with the dog.......... that's where I could live! You have a beautiful garden; this painting brings the garden into the house. Calm is a wonderful thing...........

Great to see to you!

Kaie


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Lovely and informative hub. I thank you.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

breakfastpop- thank you and you are very welcome!


katyzzz profile image

katyzzz 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Amazing, Kaie, and a wonderful art lesson.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I love her paintings of children!


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

katyzzz- Glad you stopped by and enjoyed the lesson!

Kaie


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

habee- her paintings of children are beautiful............. I always love to see the way the little girls were dressed, and then I remember that anytime my daughter was dressed up........... she'd sit down in a pile of dirt to play. Just a little like her mom.............

Kaie


nikonmaven profile image

nikonmaven 6 years ago from Weatherford, Oklahoma

Wonderful article, beautifully illustrated; reminding us of Cassatt's genius in the sexist world of her time.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Well, your favorite is definitely my favorite as well. This lady was an extraordinary painter, to be sure. I love your selections of her work, and your words flow down the page effortlessly, as always. You are a beautiful writer with a lovely soul. :D


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

nikomaven- thank you for the compliments......... I'm glad you enjoyed the articles and the illustrations............ Cassatt was quite a woman!

Kaie


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

James.......... hey stranger! Glad you love my favorite; have I ever told you what great taste you have? ;-)

She was indeed extraordinary............. her paintings have a tendency to move me when I'm in "missing mommy" mode. Maybe.......... that's why I chose to do this Hub now, lately saw both my kids........... goodbyes are hard.

As for the rest.......... you make me smile............

Kaie


HubCrafter profile image

HubCrafter 6 years ago from Arizona

Hello Kaie:

My wife Linda fell in love with Cassatt at first sight. She has several books on Impressionist painters. Her favorite...is Mary Cassatt.

Her lovely paintings of mother and child are so very endearing..the pastel skin tones just radiate with life and a gentleness..the soft skin of an infant...the tender touch.

After a year of art classes at a local college, I wanted to enter the Pennsylvania Academy. But...my ex-spouse didn't want to move. I loved the Ash Can School of painting. Their broad strokes and bravura..kindof Spanish and fervent.

Degas has always been a personal favorite of mine. His relationship with Mary is a bit enigmatic. But they both had influence certainly on one another's work.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Hubcrafter- Trips down memory lane can be fun! Your wife.......... she has great taste! Me, I love to paint walls, furniture, and just about anything else in the house........ other than that it's oils, pastels, and charcoal. Those are my favorite mediums!

I'm not familiar with the Ash Can School of painting; I think I will look it up now.......

Thank you, and you are very welcome!

Kaie


HubCrafter profile image

HubCrafter 6 years ago from Arizona

Hey Kaie!

The Ash Can School is essentially an American movement..sort of one step removed from the American Impressionists. The main difference (among several) is really subject matter. The American Impressionists continued in the vein of the French..painting pretty, middle class holidays. The Ash Can folks just wanted less genteel subjects...more "manly" stuff to paint. So they found subjects of prize fighters, etc.

And they painted in a broad syle. The pallet knife was their preferred weapon for "manly" painting, lol.

My bad..but in my twenties such talk seemed so...manly, lol.

I eventually found Degas and Cezanne. I copied their works and inhaled anything written about their lives, methods and theories, etc.

For several years I worked in mixed media..mainly because Degas and Rembrandt (sortof too) did it. This and poverty, lol, led me to use some odd mixtures of "media".

But...I digress.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Hubcrafter- I looked it up and it does look very interesting! Any American movement is a good thing in my book. Less genteel never hurts; I bought a painting for my father years ago, it was inspired by "The Old Man and the Sea." That story is one of my favorites, but my Dad wouldn't have connected the reason why I was drawn to it. He just thought it was a great fishing painting for his room. Alas, I tried.......... it too was done with bold strokes, but I don't remember it as having any lines that looked like a tool was used rather than a brush.......... I'm going to have to see if it is still around. My mother gave up those things when he passed away......... maybe my brother took it. Up until now I hadn't thought about it!

Degas, Cezanne, and even Rembrandt will all be making appearances in this series. I hope you like them as well as this! Thanks for coming back........... and all of the information! Kaie


HubCrafter profile image

HubCrafter 6 years ago from Arizona

I mentioned the Ash Can School because several of their proponents taught painting at the Pennsylvania Academy.

If the painting was inspired by Hemingway's, 'Old Man and the Sea' (published in 1951)..then it's unlikely to be an Ash Can School painting. They worked in a period just prior to the writer...closer to the turn of the century.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashcan_School).


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Hubcrafter- Thanks for that............... saves me some research! I will hit the link you've provided now........... Kaie


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Kaie this is a superb resource on Mary Cassatt and her work - she was an inspiration to many in not only Impressionism but women artists everywhere. Beautiful paintings.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Billy- Thank you! Cassatt was most certainly an inspiration........... her work is beautiful, but I appreciate what she's conveyed about motherhood as much as I appreciate her art. She never had children, and yet their care was an important cause for her to support. I often wonder if she never married and didn't have children because her art wouldn't have allowed her to be the wife or mother she envisioned. Maybe someday I will find the answer to that question, but then again, maybe I won't! Thanks for stopping by! Kaie


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hello Kaie,

You have done an excellent job of giving us information about the life of Mary Cassatt which was very interesting. She was a wonderful artist and I particularly love her mother and child themes. Thanks!


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago Author

Peggy W.- Mary Cassatt did lead a rather interesting life.......... and she was a wonderful artist. Her mother/child themes are my favorites too. Glad you enjoyed~ Kaie


visionandfocus profile image

visionandfocus 5 years ago from North York, Canada

Wow, this is one awesome hub! I'm linking to it from mine (Kick-Ass Women Impressionists).


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 5 years ago Author

visionandfocus- Thank you for the kind words and for the link! :-) Kaie


LorenAyBe profile image

LorenAyBe 5 years ago from Belgium

Beautifully arranged, thanks for posting this great hub.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 5 years ago Author

LorenAybe- Thank you, and you are very welcome! Kaie

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