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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Mary Cassatt

Mix Master
About Mr.B

Mary Cassatt: May 22,1844-June 14,1926...United States

"I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up."
~Mary Cassatt

How difficult it must have been to be a woman living in the mid-eighteen hundreds. What would have been your role in society? Find a husband. Cook, clean, and have children. Care for the household needs. Women that did not conform to that standard might become a social outcast. A woman that refused to conform and make her own way was Impressionist artist, Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt was born in in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. "I entered the world with a passion for line and color." Her dad was a wealthy stockbroker, and her mom, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a family that got rich in banking. It is safe to say that Mary had a high society upbringing. Her family moved to Europe due to one of her younger brother's health conditions. The lived in France and Germany. In 1855, after her sick brother passed away, she moved back to Pennsylvania. In 1861 she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she studied for four years. She knew to reach her fullest potential at that time in history she needed to go to the center of the art world for training: Paris, France. Most art schools in Europe did not admit women, so she needed a studio to learn in. For a short time she was in the studio of Charles Chaplin, and then Jean-Léon Gérôme. She was first admitted into the Salon in 1868. Those early works were very much influenced by Édouard Manet and Japanese prints.

She returned to the United Stated in 1870, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. But she would return in late 1871, largely because American galleries and studios wanted no part of a woman painter. After traveling all over Europe, she chose to settle in Paris. There she lived with her older sister, until her sister’s death. This was a devastating event for Cassatt. Mary would keep working.

Although discouraged by American studios, Mary Cassatt was a desired artist by Americans that visited Paris. She created many portraits for these tourists. As her popularity was climbing she met Edgar Degas. He advised Cassatt to join the with a group of artists calling themselves The Independents. She would show her work with this group four times. It was perfect for her because now she could show her work without a judge rejecting her for being a woman artist. Degas would help her mold into a new style. “The first sight of Degas' pictures was the turning point of my artistic life.” Pierre Auguste Renoir also had an impact on her art at this time. So to did, the individual that I see as the leader of the Impressionists, Camille Pissarro. “He was such a professor that he could have taught stones to draw correctly.” As time went on the Independents would rename themselves the Impressionists.

During the 1890s, Cassatt would adopt her most recognized period. At this time she would focus on painting the everyday lives of women, usually with their children. One of those most recognized works is The Bath.

The Bath
1893. Oil on canvas. 39.5 X 26 inches. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Il, USA.

On her last trips to the United States, in 1898 and 1908, she made several side trips to visit collectors and art dealers. She would influence their business unlike any other American artist ever had before. She persuaded them to buy Impressionist artworks. She knew it would be a great investment and help the artists sell works. This is the major reason why the best and most important impressionist works are owned by American collectors and museums.

Because she never married or had children of her own, she had many friends and family members who lived around her and she enjoyed their company. “I am independent! I can live alone and I love to work.” At the start of World War I, Cassatt quit painting. This was largely due to health problems. She died in her home in Mesnil-Beaufresne, France. Although she had great successes, those were successes that she fought and sacrificed greatly to receive. "Acceptance, under someone else’s terms, is worse than rejection."


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063