Saturday, March 6, 2010

March is Women's History Month

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was an
American painter and printmaker.
Cassatt painted many  images of the
social and private lives of women,
with a particular interest and emphasis on the
 intimate bond between a mother and her child.

Self Portrait of Mary Cassatt

What is so fascinating about Mary Cassatt is,
at the lowest point of her career, 
she was befriended  by the Impressionists and
invited to show her paintings with their own
in a series of independent exhibitions in 1874.
Who were the Impressionists?
Such artists as Edgar Degas, Renoir, and Monet!
there were only two women who were
invited to join this notiable group, Mary and
her friend and colleague, Berthe Moriset. 
The Impressionists had been receiving
the wrath of the critics for several years.
Many thought that the Impressionists were
afflicted with some unknown disease of the eye
 because of their radical ideas of  art in
general and their distinct style of painting!
And still, Mary Cassatt painted,
inspite of what others thought of her art work!

Portrait of Mary Cassatt painted by Edgar Degas

She ws born into a family of weath
 in Pennslyvania and was first inspired
 to paint when she spent five
years of her education abroad
studying art in Europe.

Little Girl in a Blue ArmChair

 She was impressed by the
 paintings of Edgar Degas,
not knowing that later on she
would become friends with him,
She was quoted as saying,
"I used to go and flatten
my nose against that window
and absorb all I could of his art.
It changed my life.
 I saw art then as
I wanted to see it."

In the Box

Her determination to paint and become
a professional artist survived inspite
of the many situations in her life that
could have completely extinguished her talent. 

The Lilacs 1880

At the age of fifteen, her family objected to her
becoming a professional artist, concerned that
 the bohemian lifestyle of the male artists where
she studied art would  expose her to feminist ideas. 

The Loge 1880

In 1866, she had  to overcome her father's
 strong objections to her moving to Paris
 to study art, only agreeing to let her go
after she convinced her mother
and sister to go as her chaperones.

The Tea  1880
Women were not allowed to attend the
  École des Beaux-Arts so she studied
 privately with masters from the school.

Her painting, A Mandoline Player, was accepted
for the first time by the selection jury
for the Paris Salon. She submitted more of
her work to the Salon but became
increasingly frustrated after encountering
ten years of rejection without
another painting accepted by the  Jury.

In the summer of 1870,
 the Franco-Prussian War had started.
Mary moved back to America and
 lived with her famliy. Her father continued to
object to her career as an artist and
 decided to pay for her basic need
 but not her art supplies.

Helene du Septeuil

Her work attracted the attention of the
 Archbishop of Pittsburgh, who commissioned her
 to paint two copies of paintings by Correggio in
Parma, Italy, advancing her enough money
to cover her travel expenses and part of her stay.

 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.

Tow Women Throwing Flowers

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
oftendismissed with contempt unless
the artist had a friend or protector
on the jury, and she would not
 flirt with jurors to curry favor.

 Her cynicism grew when one of the
 two pictures she submitted in 1875
 was refused by the jury,
only to be accepted the following year
 after she darkened the background.
By 1877,  her entries were rejected,
and for the first time in seven years
 she had no works in the Salon.

In 1877, Cassatt was joined in Paris
 by her parents and 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.

Lydia Leaning On her Arms

The 1890s were Cassatt's
busiest and most creative time.
She  became a role model for young
American artists who sought her advice.
Though the Impressionist group had  disbanded,
Cassatt still had contact with some of the members,
including Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro.

The Child's Caress

Also in 1891,
Chicago businesswoman Bertha Palmer
 approached Cassatt to paint
 a 54' x 12' mural
 about "Modern Woman" for the
Women's Building at 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.

Maternite  1890

Maternal Kiss  1896

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.
 Unfortunately, the mural was lost
when the building was torn
down after the exhibit.

A Young Mother  1900

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.

Sara Holing Her Dog  1901

In recognition of her contributions to the arts,
France awarded her the Légion d'honneur in 1904.

Margot In Blue  1902

Mary Cassatt's brother,
Alexander Cassatt,
(President of the Pennsylvania Railroad)
died in 1906. She was shaken,
as they had been close, but
she continued to be very productive
 in the years leading up to 1910

Children Playing with a Cat   1908

A trip to Egypt in 1910 impressed Cassatt
 with the beauty of its ancient art,
 but was followed by a crisis of creativity;
 not only had the trip exhausted her,
but she declared herself
 "crushed by the strength of this Art",
saying, "I fought against it but it conquered,
 it is surely the greatest Art the past has left us ...
how are my feeble hands to ever paint the effect on me."

Sara Holding a Cat   1908

 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.

Young Woamn In Green  1914

She died on June 14, 1926 at the
Château de Beaufresne,
near Paris, and was buried in the
family vault at Le Mesnil-Théribus, France.

  Fillette au Grande Chapeau  1908

She defied the odds at a time
when  society was not ready to
 accept women as professional artists. 

 She survived wars,
mourned the  death
of several close
 members of her family.

She  overcame rejection,
 frustration, and criticism, 
to become a respected painter
and gifted advisor 
to other women who
wanted to follow
in her footsteps.

The Child's Bath  1893

She could have quit painting so many times and
resigned herself to the aristocratic life
that her family lead, but she could not
stop how she felt about her chosen profession.

Sleeping Baby   1910

Deep inside her beating heart,
 flourished a desire so passionate,
so true, to only be spoken through
 the canvas of Mary Cassatt.


There's only one thing in life for a woman;
it's to be a mother....
A woman artist must be ...
capable of making primary sacrifices.

I am independent!
I can live alone and
I love to work.

I think that if you shake the tree,
you ought to be around when
 the fruit falls to pick it up.

American women have been spoiled,
treated and indulged like children;
 they must wake up to their duties.

There are two ways for a painter:
the broad and easy one or
 the narrow and hard one.

I have not done what I wanted to,
 but I tried to make a good fight.

If painting is no longer needed,
 it seems a pity that some of us
are born into the world with
 such a passion for line and color.


23 free images courtesy of


  1. I loved today's post. Mary's art was breath-taking. Thank you again for giving us insight into these women in our past!

  2. Mary's brother Alexander, as President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, is profiled in the recent book: CONQUERING GOTHAM by Jill Jonnes,
    Viking Press, 2007. It includes quite a bit of interesting information about her relationship with her brother and their family.

  3. Thanks so much for this Kym its a fantastic post and she was an amazing artist. i adore the paintings which show a complete loving heart and love of motherhood and children
    hugs June xxx


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