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Mary Stevenson Cassatt (American, 1844-1926)

Also known as:  Cassatt, Mary Stevenson; Mary Cassatt

Birth Place: Allegheny City (Allegheny county, Pennsylvania, United States)

Biography:
Mary Stevenson Cassatt, born May of 1844 in Pennsylvania, was from an upper middle class banking family. Her family believed that travel was essential to education. Therefore, Cassatt has seen spent a combined five years in Europe before she was twenty. At the age of 15, she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts until 1866 when Cassatt moved to Paris. Unable to attend the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts due to her gender, Cassatt tutored privately with Jean-Leon Gerome. Despite her parents’ wishes, Cassatt was determined to become a career artist, and after requiring the necessary permit, she copied works in the Louvre and met with fellow French and American female artist who were not allowed to attend major art schools or bohemian cafes. Cassatt studied under Charles Chaplin and Thomas Couture briefly in the late 1860s. Her painting, A Mandoline Player, was her first acceptance into the Paris Salon along with her friend and fellow artist, Elizabeth Jane Gardner. Together, they were the first American female artists accepted by the Salon. Cassatt reluctantly returned to the United States during the Franco-Prussian War. Her work was mostly ignored, and after the Great Chicago Fire claimed several pieces, she briefly considered giving up being a professional artist. However, the Archbishop of Pittsburgh hired Cassatt to create two copies of Carreggio’s works in Parma, Italy, and through this commission, Cassatt was able to return to Europe and quickly gained international recognition for artistic talent. Cassatt traveled across Europe and eventually opened a studio in Paris. In 1874, Edgar Degas invited her to exhibit her works with the impressionists, who at the time were unilaterally disliked by the critics. Cassatt happily agreed and took to sketching outdoors, producing art spontaneously. Degas introduced Cassatt to pastels as well as etching. The two collaborated, but Cassatt learned that Degas was not always dependable to complete projects. The 1879 impressionist exhibit was the first successful show for the group. Cassatt received few compliments from critiques as they remarked her paintings too bright and her portraits unflatteringly accurate. After this success, impressionism began to take off and in the late 1880s, and Cassatt began to exhibit in the United States. Cassatt later separated herself from the impressionists by taking a more simple approach. She is most known for her later series of carefully drawn paintings and prints depicting various mothers and children. This work had an increased sentimentality that was missing from her earlier work. As the new century dawned, Cassatt worked as a collection advisor in the United States, but her reputation as an artist was slow to gain traction in her home country. Nevertheless, examples of Cassatt’s work can be found in the National Gallery in Washington DC. In 1904, she was awarded the Legion d’honneur by France for her contribution to the arts and died in 1926 near Paris. Cassatt’s legacy can be found in her work but also in her embodiment of the nineteenth century “New Woman” who was educated, socially aware, and independent.

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