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Mary Cassatt

Biography >> Art History

Mary Cassatt self-portrait painting
Self-portrait, 1878
by Mary Cassatt


Childhood and Early Life

Mary Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844 into a wealthy family near the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She spent part of her childhood living in France and Germany, where she learned French and German. While in Europe, she also gained a love for art and decided early on that she wanted to become a professional artist.

Art Education and Early Career

Although her parents had some misgivings about Mary choosing a career as an artist, she entered art school at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1860. Mary spent several years studying art at the academy, but eventually became frustrated with the instruction and the limits put on female students.

In 1866, Mary moved to Paris where she took private lessons from art instructor Jean-Leon Gerome. She also studied paintings on her own in museums such as the Louvre. In 1868, one of her paintings (A Mandolin Player) was accepted to be exhibited by the famous Paris Salon. Over the next several years, Cassatt continued to paint with some success.

A Mandolin Player, 1872 by Mary Cassatt
(click picture for larger view)
Impressionism and Degas

By 1877, Mary Cassatt had become frustrated with the traditional art scene in Paris. Fortunately, it was about that time that Mary became close friends with Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. She began to explore new ways of painting and discovered a whole new world of art in Impressionism. She began to exhibit her paintings with the Impressionists and gained a new level of notoriety within the art world.

Influences, Style, and Common Themes

Mary Cassatt's artistic style was influenced by the European masters early on and, later, by the Impressionist art movement (especially Edgar Degas). Mary also studied Japanese art and its influence can be seen in many of her paintings.

Mary wanted to express light and color in her art. She often used pastels. Most of her paintings are of people. For many years, she primarily painted her family. Later, the major theme of her paintings involved scenes showing a mother and child together.

Many of Cassatt's paintings featured a mother and child.
The Child's Bath, 1893 by Mary Cassatt
(click picture for larger view)

Mary Cassatt is widely considered one of the greatest American artists. She achieved fame in the art world at a time when this was very difficult for women. Many of her paintings are exhibited today in museums such as the National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery.

Interesting Facts About Mary Cassatt More examples of Mary Cassatt's Art:

Lydia Leaning on Her Arms
(Click to see larger version)

The Boating Party
(Click to see larger version)

Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878
(Click to see larger version)


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