Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in 1844 and died in 1926. Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania into an upper-middle class family. Both of her parents came from well-to-do families so Mary wanted for little as a child. Also, she was well-educated and well read. As part of her education, her parents made certain she traveled extensively. She spent five years traveling throughout Europe visiting many capitals such as London, Paris, and Berlin.

At the age of 15, Cassatt entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where she studied throughout the duration of the American Civil War. Art was valued among members of the upper class at that time, but Cassatt was determined to not simply value it but to make a career out of it as well. This set her apart from many of her contemporaries. The art school offered an array of experiences and learning opportunities, but the pace was too slow for Cassatt's liking and it was a predominantly male dominated school; only about 20% of the students were female. This left Cassatt feeling as though she was not learning anything so she took to studying a group of artists referred to as the "old masters" on her own. These were artists who were skilled painters before the year 1800. Prior to the academy and Cassatt's individual pursuits, Cassatt's mother is given credit for any artist training she received.

Eventually, Cassatt left the school without receiving a degree and went to Paris in 1866. She began private studying under Jean-Léon Gérôme. When not studying with Gérôme, Cassatt went to the Louvre and copied various works she saw. Over the course of ten years, Cassatt remained true to traditional painting styles while many other artists were attempting to develop their own unique styles. She repeatedly submitted work to the Paris Salon, an art gallery, but throughout that time only a few pieces were chosen. Early on A Mandoline Player was chosen but it was not until a hiatus in America and return to Europe that Cassatt began to receive more recognition. The acceptance of Two Women Throwing Flowers during Carnival at the Paris Salon served as a turning point in recognition for Cassatt.

After receiving an invitation by Edgar Degas, Cassatt began working on pieces to display with the other Impressionists of that time. The exhibition was held in 1879 and several pieces were sold, although at that time, there was continuing widely held criticism regarding any Impressionist paintings. Among the critics was Cassatt's own father who insisted she make a living from her artistic pursuits. This prompted Cassatt to produce three of her most well-known and most prized paintings - Portrait of the Artist, a self-portrait, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, and Reading Le Figaro, a portrait of her mother.

Cassatt never married because she believed marriage would interfere with her art. She did make quite a name for herself painting many pieces that centered on the theme of mother and child. One of her final exhibitions was a tribute to women's suffrage in 1915. Cassatt had become blind so she eventually stopped painting all together and later died in Paris, where she had spent most of her life. She is buried there still today.