Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American Impressionist painter and printmaker, one of the very few American artists active in France. She was a feminist and supported the Women's Suffrage Movement in America, a movement fight for women's voting rights. Cassatt's works mainly depict the relationship between mother and child and women. Her representative works include Breakfast in Bed, Child in a Straw Hat and The Sisters.
Mary Cassatt was born in an upper-class family in Philadelphia. Her father was a famous investment banker and a former local mayor. Her brother became the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. However, Cassatt, a young lady of high society, aspired to be an artist. Her family opposed this idea, but she eventually overcame the resistance and entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1861, where she began her artistic journey. Four years of study there gave Cassatt a solid classical painting technique but also left her unsatisfied with the outdated teaching and curriculum and wishing to start seeking new artistic horizons.
In 1866, the 22-year-old Cassatt left the United States and came to Paris, the capital of art at that time. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Cassatt had to temporarily suspend her studies in Paris and return to the United States. Nevertheless, in late 1871, she came to Europe again, to Italy. Here, she fully appreciated the style of the European Old Masters' works, especially about the Virgin and Child, which greatly influenced Cassatt. By 1872, her artistic style had matured, and under the artistic influence of Courbet and Manet, she set up a studio in Spain to study Velázquez and Ribera's work and created a series of characteristic paintings based on local subjects.
At the Salon of 1874, Edgar Degas saw a painting by Cassatt, which prompted him to exclaim, "Look! Someone feels the same way as I do." That same year, Cassatt noticed a few Degas pastels in a store window and wrote, "It changed my life! That's when I saw the art I wanted to see." Shortly thereafter, they met and began a friendship that lasted forty years. Degas introduced her to the other Impressionists, and for nine years, as the only American, she exhibited with them, with whom she had a good rapport. Both Cassatt and Degas preferred to call themselves "Independents" rather than "Impressionists," and both had always insisted on formal integrity in their paintings, whereas Monet, Pissarro, and others tended to turn form into the light. Like them, she initially adopted a high-key color palette, applying a small number of contrasting colors. Over time, however, Cassatt's forms became more solid, with works full of clear, linear contours. In 1886, she deviated from the Impressionist style of painting and experimented with various techniques, making her work look simpler and more straightforward, no longer belonging to any painting style. She created a series of carefully observed, strictly delicate, but not sentimental paintings of mothers and children, which became her masterpieces. Mary Cassatt's most creative period in the 1890s, and she became an icon of young American painters. In 1891 she exhibited a series of engravings and etchings. By 1915, for the last 11 years of her life, her eyesight and ability to draw had been impaired by diabetes. Cassatt died in France in 1926.
In her early years, Cassatt was fond of copying ancient masters and tended to copy French art trends before joining the ranks of the Impressionists and absorbing their painting techniques, particularly under the influence of Edgar Degas. Perhaps because she was a woman and never married, Cassatt's subjects were mainly drawn from everyday life, mostly women and children, with a particular interest in the warmth of mothers raising their children. In her numerous works, such as The Child's Bath, Louise Nursing Her Child, and Baby's First Caress, the motherly love that this celibate painter failed to experience in her personal life is fully expressed in her artworks.
The academic education that Cassatt received was derived from the European tradition, and it was the European artistic activities and changes - mainly those of the French Impressionists - that she participated in after her studies and arrival in France. This strong relationship with the European artistic tradition is, therefore, an important characteristic of Cassatt's art. However, as an American artist who lived in Europe for many years, Cassatt had always maintained some characteristics of her own that were different from those of the French Impressionists.
Her work has a stable, clear, and unpretentious style that is unique to her as an American woman and an American artist who sought the independence of character. Her privileged family provided her with solid material support, so she did not have to worry about the sale of her paintings and could always explore the various domestic subjects she loved, fully developing her fresh, unpretentious style and eventually becoming an important and distinctive painter in the Impressionist art movement of the time.
Cassatt was a strong-willed woman who was not bound by worldly ideas and who was devoted to her passion. Although unmarried for the rest of her life, Cassatt lived a prosperous life. As early as 1894, Cassatt had enough money from her family's inheritance and her own painting sales to buy a luxury estate near Paris.