Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mary Cassatt

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (pronounced /kəˈsæt/; May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) was an American painter and printmaker. She lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Wikepedia begins thus, with an extensive biography.  I'll just cut/paste few of the facts, and her paintings here.

... born in Pittsburgh, PA, ]distant cousin of artist Robert Henri.[2] ...began schooling at age 6 in Philadelphia.

Cassatt grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education; she spent 5 years in Europe and visited many of the capitals, including London, Paris, and Berlin. While abroad she learned German and French and had her first lessons in drawing and music.[3] Her first exposure to French artists Ingres, Delacroix, Corot, and Courbet was likely at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855. Also exhibited at the exhibition were Degas and Pissarro, both of whom would be her future colleagues and mentors.[4]

Even though her family objected to her becoming a professional artist, Cassatt began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, at the early age of 15.[5] Part of her parents' concern may have been Cassatt’s exposure to feminist ideas and the bohemian behavior of some of the male students. Although about 20 percent of the students were female, most viewed art as a socially valuable skill; few of them were determined, as Cassatt was, to make art their career.[6] She continued her studies during the years of the American Civil War. Among her fellow students was Thomas Eakins, later the controversial director of the Academy.

Cassatt decided to end her studies (at that time, no degree was granted). After overcoming her father’s objections she moved to Paris in 1866, with her mother and family friends acting as chaperones.[8] Since women could not yet attend the École des Beaux-Arts, she applied to study privately with masters from the school[9] and was accepted to study with Jean-Léon Gérôme, a highly regarded teacher known for his hyper-realistic technique and his depiction of exotic subjects.

Cassatt augmented her artistic training with daily copying in the Louvre (she obtained the required permit, which was necessary to control the “copyists”, usually low-paid women, who daily filled the museum to paint copies for sale).

 The French art scene was in a process of change, as radical artists such as Courbet and Manet tried to break away from accepted Academic tradition and the Impressionists were in their formative years.

Returning to the United States in the late summer of 1870—as the Franco-Prussian War was starting—Cassatt lived with her family in Altoona. ... returned to Europe in the autumn of 1871, Cassatt’s prospects had brightened. Her painting Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival was well received in the Salon of 1872, and was purchased.  

In 1874, she made the decision to take up residence in France. She was joined by her sister Lydia who shared an apartment with her. Cassatt continued to express criticism of the politics of the Salon and the conventional taste that prevailed there.  Cassatt saw that works by female artists were often dismissed with contempt unless the artist had a friend or protector on the jury, and she would not flirt with jurors to curry favor.[20]

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Miss Cassatt, Seated, Holding Cards, c. 1876–1878, oil on canvas
In 1877, ...she was invited by Edgar Degas to show her works with the Impressionists, a group that had begun their own series of independent exhibitions in 1874 with much attendant notoriety. She felt comfortable with the Impressionists and joined their cause enthusiastically, declaring: “we are carrying on a despairing fight & need all our forces”.[25]

Cassatt, self portrait
In 1877, Cassatt was joined in Paris by her father and mother, who returned with her sister Lydia. Mary valued their companionship, as neither she nor Lydia had married. Mary had decided early in life that marriage would be incompatible with her career. Lydia, who was frequently painted by her sister, suffered from recurrent bouts of illness, and her death in 1882 left Cassatt temporarily unable to work.[27]

Cassatt’s father insisted that her studio and supplies be covered by her sales, which were still meager. Afraid of having to paint “potboilers” to make ends meet, Cassatt applied herself to produce some quality paintings for the next Impressionist exhibition. 

Degas had considerable influence on Cassatt. She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognized master. The two worked side-by-side for a while, and her draftsmanship gained considerable strength under his tutelage. He depicted her in a series of etchings recording their trips to the Louvre.  The sophisticated and well-dressed Degas, then forty-five, was a welcome dinner guest at the Cassatt residence.[28]

The Impressionist exhibit of 1879 was the most successful to date, despite the absence of Renoir, Sisley, Manet and Cézanne, ... she remained an active member of the Impressionist circle until 1886. In 1886, Cassatt provided two paintings for the first Impressionist exhibition in the United States, organized by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.  Cassatt’s style then evolved, and she moved away from Impressionism to a simpler, more straightforward approach.

The Child's Bath (The Bath) by Mary Cassatt, 1893, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago
Cassatt's popular reputation is based on an extensive series of rigorously drawn, tenderly observed, yet largely unsentimental paintings and prints on the theme of the mother and child.  After 1900, she concentrated almost exclusively on mother-and-child subjects.[33]

In 1891, she exhibited a series of highly original colored drypoint and aquatint prints, including Woman Bathing and The Coiffure, inspired by the Japanese masters shown in Paris the year before.  In her interpretation, she used primarily light, delicate pastel colors and avoided black (a “forbidden” color among the Impressionists).

Also in 1891, Chicago businesswoman Bertha Palmer approached Cassatt to paint a 54' × 12' mural about "Modern Woman" for the Women's Building for the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in 1893. Cassatt completed the project over the next two years while living in France with her mother. The mural was designed as a triptych. The central theme was titled Young Women Plucking the Fruits of Knowledge or Science. The left panel was Young Girls Pursuing Fame and the right panel Arts, Music, Dancing. The mural displays a community of women apart from their relation to men, as accomplished persons in their own right. Palmer considered Cassatt to be an American treasure and could think of no one better to paint a mural at an exposition that was to do so much to focus the world's attention on the status of women.[36] Unfortunately the mural was lost when the building was torn down after the exhibit. Cassatt made several studies and paintings on themes similar to those in the mural around that time, however, so it is possible to see her development of those ideas and images.[37] Cassatt also exhibited other paintings in the Exposition.

As the new century arrived, Cassatt served as an advisor to several major art collectors and stipulated that they eventually donate their purchases to American art museums. In recognition of her contributions to the arts, France awarded her the Légion d'honneur in 1904. Although instrumental in advising American collectors, recognition of her art came more slowly in the United States. Even among her family members back in America, she received little recognition ...

... An increasing sentimentality is apparent in her work of the 1900s; her work was popular with the public and the critics, but she was no longer breaking new ground, and her Impressionist colleagues who once provided stimulation and criticism were dying off. She was hostile to such new developments in art as post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism.[40]

Diagnosed with diabetes, rheumatism, neuralgia, and cataracts in 1911, she did not slow down, but after 1914 she was forced to stop painting as she became almost blind. Nonetheless, she took up the cause of women's suffrage, and in 1915, she showed eighteen works in an exhibition supporting the movement.
She died on June 14, 1926 at Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, and was buried in the family vault at Le Mesnil-Théribus, France.
Much of this Wikepedia article came from Nancy Mowll Mathews, Mary Cassatt: A Life, Villard Books, New York, 1994


 “O how wild I am to get to work, my fingers farely itch & my eyes water to see a fine picture again”.    Mary Cassatt

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for making this a more personal connection by saying what you think. I'll post your comments for others to see soon!