Mary Cassatt

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Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania to a well-established family.  Cassatt’s father was successful in real estate and her mother came from a family of bankers.

In 1850, her family moved to Germany where they spent 10 years.  In 1860, after Cassatt’s brother died, the family moved back to Pennsylvania where Cassatt enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts.  By the time Cassatt turned 21, she was upset with the small collections of European art available and the lack of respect for women attempting to pursue a career.  Cassatt made the decision to move to Europe to continue her studies against the wishes of her father.  While in Europe, Mary Cassatt had to study privately since, at that time, women were not allowed to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt in 1878. The painter was born in 1844. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

In 1868, the Paris Salon, a prestigious exhibition in France, choose one of Cassatt’s paintings to show in their annual exhibit.  Since Cassatt’s father had protested her career, she used the name Mary Stevenson.

After the start of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, Mary Cassatt was forced to move back to Pennsylvania with her family.  In an attempt to gather funds for her supplies, Cassatt made an effort to sell her artwork.  She was unsuccessful in New York however; an art dealer in Chicago took in her work.  Unfortunately, her artwork was ruined in a fire in 1871.

In 1872, Mary Cassatt was requested by the Archbishop of Pittsburgh to travel to Parma, Italy to create artistic copies of two paintings by Correggio.  While in Parma, Cassatt found favoritism among the art world selling her painting Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival and showing her work in exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1872, 1873 and 1874.

In 1874, Cassatt made the decision to reside permanently in Paris, France where she caught the attention of Edgar Degas (known for his ability to capture people in motion in his artwork).  It was at this time that Cassatt was introduced to the Impressionistic style.

In 1879, Cassatt participated in her first Impressionist Exhibition where eleven of her paintings were displayed.  This proved to be a great success; encouraging two similar exhibits in 1880 and 1881. Mary Cassatt continued to paint as an impressionist until 1886 when she decided to explore different aspects of artistic expression.

During the 1880s, Cassatt devoted much of her time promoting important art pieces in America for individuals with a passion for arts to have the opportunity to view and study without having to travel to Europe.

Mary Cassatt was requested to participate in the 1893 mural supporting woman’s rights by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that would be displayed in the Hall of Honor at the Woman’s Building.  The project involved three sections: the first (from left to right), Young Women Pursuing Fame depicted three young ladies rejecting society’s limitations on the success of women; the middle, Young Women Picking the Fruits of Knowledge and Science and the final section, Arts, Music, and Dancing presenting the same three women after accomplishing their goals.  Sadly, shortly after the exposition the building was torn down and the mural went missing.

Mary Cassatt continued to produce beautiful artwork in the 1900s however; due to her failing eye sight and dwindling health was unable to continue her passion for art and had to completely cease her work in 1911.  She passed away in her home at Chateau de Beaufresne on June 14, 1926.