Mary Cassatt: An American Female Painter in Paris

Published on Jul. 18th 2007

American painter Mary Cassatt was born in 1844 in Pennsylvania; she went on to become one of the most prominent female painters in the Impressionist art movement.

It was a time when there weren’t even that many woman painters at all (painting wasn’t necessarily “ladylike”), and Mary Cassatt stood out not only for her involvement with such an important movement as Impressionism, but for the quality of her art.

Summertime by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was exposed to art early on, first by traveling in Europe with her family and then studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as a young woman.

She continued to travel on her own and then moved permanently to Paris in her thirties. There she became influenced by—and directly involved in—the Impressionist movement.

In Summertime (above) you can see how she painted bold, pure colors into the rippling water, allowing the viewer’s eyes to blend and make sense of the different hues.

It’s a distinctly Impressionist characteristic, and it appears in many of her paintings.

The self-portrait watercolor painting below shows her beautiful use of light colors, even in a simple sketch.

Self-portrait by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt also worked especially closely with Edgar Degas for several years. Due to her American connections, she helped influence art collectors in the states to begin buying his work, as well as work by other early Impressionist painters.

Lydia Seated at an Embroidery Frame by Mary Cassatt

Later on in life, however, Mary Cassatt moved away from the roots of Impressionism and “solidified” many of her forms and figures in her paintings.

La Toilette contains little or no Impressionist brushwork, and relies mostly on pattern and composition rather than bright colors.

La Toilette by Mary Cassatt

Even so, there’s a distinctly Cassatt feeling to the painting—in the features of the mother and child, and in the sense of “immediacy” or momentary pause, as though the artist truly stopped time in order to capture a single perfect moment.

With failing health and limited vision, Mary Cassatt stopped painting nearly a decade before her death, but remained influential in both Europe and the US—especially as a role-model for other women painters and artists.

She died in 1926 at the age of 82.

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