Mary Cassatt: Artist Portrait

Mary Cassatt

Born 1844. Died 1926.

Works by Mary Cassatt at Sotheby's

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Mary Cassatt Biography

Born to a wealthy family in Philadelphia in 1844, Mary Cassatt trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, one of the few institutions where women were allowed to study. She moved to Paris with her mother in 1866, where she would spend her entire adult life. Cassatt began studying Italian and French masters, but was soon noticed by the Impressionists. Edgar Degas was particularly taken with her work, and beginning in the mid-1870s, she regularly exhibited her work with the Impressionists. Though very much a member of their circle, as a woman, she was not allowed to enter the cafés where the Impressionists frequently gathered to discuss art and philosophy.

Cassatt cultivated intimate and charming domestic scenes, focusing on mothers and daughters, children, and quiet interior scenes. She was quietly revolutionary in her approach to painting women, particularly in the context of her Impressionist peers. She, along with fellow Impressionist Berthe Morisot, provided a glimpse into the world of women freed of the male gaze with paintings that illuminate the internal lives, relationships, and realities of women within 19th century upper-middle class society. Outside of her artistic practice, she actively advocated for women’s suffrage and girls’ education. This tenacity kept her working through rheumatism, diabetes, neuralgia, and cataracts, but was forced to retire in 1911, when cataracts blinded her.

Her rigor and her formal innovations to Impressionism secured her legacy as one of the leading artists of the 19th century. Cassatt contributed to the dissemination of Impressionism in North America as an American working in Paris, helping to open a new market for Impressionist work. Her artwork was influential to American Impressionists Ernest Lawson, Arthur Clifton Goodwin and Theodore Robinson, and the women artists of the Beaver Hall Group in Canada. She served as advisor to several museums and collectors, and advocated for the purchase and donation of art for museums across the United States.

Cassatt’s artworks are held in major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery, Washington DC, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, among many others.

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