Mary Cassatt, a great lady of impressionism

Monet, Degas or Renoir resonate over and over again when speaking of Impressionist painters. Nevertheless, at this time, women also have a crucial role. Creators such as Berthe Morisot or Marie Bracquemond developed their work within this movement. Together with Mary Cassatt, whom we are going to talk about, they will be known as ‘the great ladies of impressionism’.

Cassatt’s work is essential to approach this style of the late nineteenth century. Therefore, we are going to delve into his life and, of course, his palette. Do not miss it.

Early life of Mary Cassatt

He was born in Pennsylvania on May 22, 1844, into a wealthy family of French origin. His mother will be vital in her education and will have a great influence. In fact, Cassatt’s training is plagued by trips to Europe during his childhood and youth. These journeys will promote the first contacts with art, contemplating works by Delacroix or Ingres.

Immediately, begins studying at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphiadespite his father’s opposition. Since the students were prohibited from using natural models, Mary Cassatt begins to feel frustrated at the slow progress of her work.

The move to Paris

It will be this situation that will motivate him to abandon his studies and move to Paris in 1866. There is accepted by the painter Gérôme as a student for private lessonslearning from his realistic and orientalist palette.

Cassatt made copies daily at the Louvre and interacted with other artists. Shortly after, as a disciple of Thomas Couture, she began to deal with more romantic subjects and to draw outdoors.

At last, in 1868 one of his canvases is accepted to be exhibited at the Paris Salon. Mary Cassatt will be one of the first women to do so. At this time, the Parisian atmosphere is about to change: Manet dreams of breaking academic norms and the Impressionists are beginning to form.

However, initially, Cassatt will not join this change and will continue to exhibit in the Hall. After a brief period in the United States in which he falls into a creative crisis, he returns again to his beloved Europe.

The Awakening of Mary Cassatt’s Brushstroke

In 1871, with her return to Europe, the painter’s fate changed. Suddenly, she begins to attract the attention of the public and the critics begin to talk about her work. Cassatt travels to Italy and shortly after will live six months in Spain, mainly in Madrid and Seville. This experience ends up opening his eyes and will have an enormous influence on his painting.


He spends his days as a copyist in the Prado, affirming that in that place one really learns to paint thanks to the beautiful and simple way of Velázquez. The direct stroke of the Sevillian genius will make Mary Cassatt rethink her own work, as well as Goya’s personal gaze.

The local reality and Spanish customs make his brushstroke loose, that the color contrasts are released. This is why he will abandon academicism, his work becomes spontaneous, in the purest impressionist style.

Consolidation in the impressionist group

After returning to Paris in 1874, Mary Cassatt decides to settle there permanently and open a studio. The painter herself constantly criticized the Salon’s attitude and policy towards women artists, who barely had a chance. In 1877, and after several refusals to exhibit her work, Edgar Degas invites her to show her canvases to the Impressionists.

The group already had in its ranks Berthe Morisot, who will become a good friend of Mary Cassatt. Also, will be totally fascinated by the Degas palette. Immediately, she will feel identified with the impressionist style, becoming a great defender of the cause.

Cassatt and Degas collaborated closely for years. He will teach her pastel painting and printmaking, while she brought her work to the United States. Thus, a unique artistic relationship will be forged between these two creators of modern human figures. Mary Cassatt would reap successes at the various Impressionist exhibitions, especially the one in 1879.

Likewise, is considered primarily responsible for introducing Impressionism to the United Stateswhere she landed with more than 300 paintings by Manet, Degas or Monet in 1886. Little by little, Mary Cassatt’s palette evolved, coming to not be identified with any particular movement.

He begins to deal more with art dealers and exhibits his works in New York and Chicago. However, in 1915 his failing health and her inevitable blindness due to the cataracts she suffered forced her to stop painting. But before, Cassatt supported the suffrage movement with his last works. He died in France on June 14, 1926.

Theme and Essential Works of Mary Cassatt

The artist focused on portraying the daily life of women at the end of the 19th century. He was never interested in the themes of landscape and nature, typical of impressionism.

Cassatt is quite a chronicler of her time: mothers and children in their daily routine, ordinary domestic scenes, etc. Some recreations that seem to give a voice to women confined to their homes, destined solely to raise their children, without playing any other role. She will be the one to make them immortal.

These are intimate settings, full of tenderness and beauty. They are spontaneous creations and full of truth in which we admire the ease of Mary Cassatt and her skill.

Among his most outstanding works it is worth mentioning child’s bathroom (1893), which we can admire at the Art Institute of Chicago. They also highlight Little girl in a blue armchair (1878) and party on a boat (1893), both belonging to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

In addition to that, some of his best canvases can be found at the MET in New York. It is the case of young mother sewing (1900) or Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror) (1899), among others.

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