Cassatt, Mary

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Mary Cassatt was the foremost American woman painter of the 19th century. She was also the only American to exhibit paintings with the French impressionists--artists who revolutionized painting by using bright colors, small brushstrokes, and informal subjects.

Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City (now a part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. She knew early that she wanted to be a painter. In 1861 she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and later went on to study in Europe.

In 1872, Cassatt had a painting accepted for the Paris Salon, the official exhibition sponsored by the French Academy of Fine Arts. A year later, she settled permanently in Paris. She soon became aware of the impressionists, especially of Edgar Degas, who became her teacher and lifelong friend. The work of the impressionists was not approved by the Academy. But it appealed to Cassatt. She stopped entering works for the Salon and exhibited with the impressionists.

Cassatt made women her main subject. In her work, we see women in their everyday lives. Often they are seen enjoying and caring for their children, especially babies.

The taste of Cassatt's time was for highly idealized mothers and children. In contrast, Cassatt painted people as she saw them. But her truth reveals a beauty that has endured. Her work became popular in Paris, and she was the first impressionist to support herself by her art. She died in her country house outside Paris on June 14, 1926.

Frank Getlein
Author, Mary Cassatt

 

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