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Mary Cassatt Portrait

Mary Cassatt

Also Known as: Mary Stevenson Cassatt, Mary Stevenson

Born:
Allegheny City, Pennsylvania 1844

Died:
Mesnil-Theribus, France 1926

Active in:

  • Paris, France

Biography

Born to a prominent Pennsylvania family, Mary Cassatt spent her artistic career in Europe. Though unmarried, she was no stranger to the family life she so often depicted: her parents and sister moved to Paris in 1877 and her two brothers and their families visited frequently. Today considered an Impressionist, Cassatt exhibited with such artists as Monet, Pissarro, and her close friend Degas, and shared with them an independent spirit, refusing throughout her life to be associated with any art academy or to accept any prizes. She stands alone, however, in her depictions of the activities of women in their worlds: caring for children, reading, crocheting, pouring tea, and enjoying the company of other women.

Elizabeth Chew Women Artists (brochure, Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Additional Biographies

Luce Artist Biography

Mary Cassatt is best known for her paintings of mothers and children in relaxed, informal poses. She was the first American artist to associate and exhibit with the French impressionists in Paris. Cassatt first traveled to Europe with her family when she was eleven, and by the age of sixteen had decided to be a professional artist. Her family did not approve of this decision, but they eventually relented and allowed her to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (Effeny, Cassatt, 1991) She did not like the formal training at the academy, however, and went back to France, finally settling there in the 1870s. She lived in Paris for most of her life, but considered herself an American and was proud of her Philadelphia roots. She was a close friend of the French painter Edgar Degas, who invited her to show with the impressionists in 1877. She “accepted with joy” and in this circle of friends felt that she first “began to live.” Cassatt pursued her painting in the remaining decades of the nineteenth century, and the 1890s became her most creative period. By 1915, however, diabetes compromised her eyesight and robbed her of the ability to paint for the last eleven years of her life.