Mary Stevenson Cassatt is an artist who is a well-known Impressionist. She was born in Allegheny City (now Pittsburg) in 1844; she spent her early years in France and Germany, which
provided her with the opportunity to become part of the new group of impressionistic artists who were dramatically transforming the world of art during that era. In her youth, Mary Cassatt studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1860-1862. In 1865, she became a student in Paris; she took lessons from Jean-Leon Gerome, and she copied works of the old masters. She also studied with Edouard Frere and Paul Soyer. Mary returned to Philadelphia in 1870 and just stayed until 1871, when she returned to Europe. In 1873, she spent eight months in Parma, Italy; she also traveled in Spain, Belgium, and Holland. Afterward, she settled in Paris, France, where Edgar Degas invited her to join the Impressionists. She exhibited her works in four out of eight of the Impressionists shows. Degas was her primary mentor, but she was also strongly influenced by Manet.
Mary Cassatt often focused on portraying figures in her drawings and paintings. During the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, the family, particularly mothers and their children, was a very
important theme in her artworks. She is famous for depicting the intense maternal bonds of love that were valued so much in the Victorian era. Due to failing eyesight, Mary Cassatt stopped painting in 1904, by the time she was sixty. In 1926, she died in her country home at Chateau de Beaufresne (Oise). Even though her art career was cut short by her physical limitations, her artistic vision as an Impressionist left its mark on the modern and post-modern worlds.
One quote that I recently found is particularly insightful to me: “If painting is no longer needed, it seems a pity that some of us are born into the world with such a passion for line and color.” (Mary Cassatt) I can relate to Mary’s philosophical musings about visual arts, which I believe is just as important in the twenty-first century as it was during the era that the Impressionists profoundly impacted their art world.
Two of my works are inspired by Mary Cassatt. The first is a charcoal drawing of my mother and myself during the early 1950’s at my paternal grandparents’ home in Nashville, Tennessee. My goal is to convey the intense maternal bonds that truly existed between Mother and me when I was a toddler. The second is a pastel drawing of myself as a young mother, with my first-born child, Anna, enjoying a daytrip together in the Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee.
Once again, maternal bonds are reflected in this family portrait. I am truly impressed with not only Mary Cassatt’s subject matter, depicting family ties, but also her impressionistic style, which I have always admired for its focus on color and light.
Another Time, Another Place