Edgar Degas to Mary Cassatt:During the Salon of 1874, Degas admired a painting by a young American artist, Mary Cassett (1845-1926), the daughter of a Philadelphia banker.
Most women paint as though they are trimming hats. Not you.
There, he remarked, is a person who feels as I do.
Befriended and greatly influenced by Edgar Degas, Cassatt participated in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1879, 1880, 1881 and 1886, refusing to do so in 1882 when Degas did not.
Her father was of French descent and had a great passion for that country. She began her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and then travelled extensively in Europe primarily as a student of masterworks in France and Italy finally settling in Paris in.
A great supporter of the Impressionists she did a lot to establish them by encouraging her bother to collect the works of Édouard Manet, Monet, Morisot, Renoir, Degas and Pissarro This resulted in the practical aspects of financing the struggling group of artists and made her brother the first important collector of Impressionism in the United States.
As a woman her choice of subject matter was limited by the fact that she could not easily frequent the cafés with her male artist friends. That and the fact that she was responsible for the care of her aging parents who had joined her in Paris. Although influenced by Degas' compositional devices and of Japanese prints, Cassatt's design had it's own strength of style and originality. Subjects of her works were primarily women and children whom she portrayed with an intimate combination of objectivity and sentiment. Works like The Bath (c. 1892) display the tender relationship between a mother and child.
Her earliest works are hallmarked by her use of golden lighting and qualities of gentleness and lyrical effulgence. Certainly from a woman's point of view dealing with domestic scenes solid forms are usually oblique and off center, the women and children (a theme common to Japanese prints) in her work are neither clearly Asian nor European appear in the foregound with Impressionism composing the background elements. By the late nineteenth century, not long after the exhibition of Japanese prints held in Paris at her efforts began to show more emphasis as the colors become clearer and more boldly defined. This was the first time so many of these prints had been gathered in one place at one time in France. Cassatt frequently attended the exhibition with both Degas and the painter Berthe Morisot, to whom she wrote:
.....you who want to make color prints you couldn't dream of anything more beautiful. I dream of it and don't think of anything else but color on copper....I saw (James) Tissot there who also is occupied with the problem of making color prints.
Acknowledged as one of the foremost American printmakers of the nineteenth century. She produced over 220 prints during her career. An expatriate from 1874 she lived in France for most of her life, her love of her adopted countrymen did not increase with age, and her latter days were clouded with bitterness. With eyesight failed in 1911 and she stopped working. Fifteen years later she died at the age of eighty-two.
De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Would you like to read more? See:Realism and Impressionism