CASSATT Mary
Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1845; died in France in 1927. Predisposed in favour of French culture by her family background, Mary Cassatt spent the first few years of her childhood in Paris, then went to America. A short while before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 she came back to Paris, no doubt in the hope of learning to paint under conditions more interesting than those then existing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Not content with studying at the Atelier Chaplin, she went to look for inspiration in the museums in Italy (where she made a study of Correggio), in Spain, and in Antwerp (where she developed an admiration for Rubens). It was in Antwerp, a few years later, that she met Degas, who suggested that she should exhibit with the Impressionists, and also gave her guidance and advice. It is wrong to conclude from this that Mary Cassatt was either a pupil or an emulator of Degas. Although Degas, confirmed woman-hater that he was, relented a little towards her, and although she admired him greatly, and a certain kinship to Degas is discernible in the style and composition of her early work, Mary Cassatt mostly maintained a complete independence of technique and inspiration. A more obvious influence is that of the Japanese artists, particularly in her drawings and drypoints. Her precise, simplified drawing has all the skill and the impressive quality of the work of the Japanese masters. Mary Cassatt had an admirable understanding of their technique and the effects that could be obtained with it. The works she created under this influence were not pastiches but creations carefully thought out according to a definite technique. However, her art never froze into system, and she managed to escape all formulas. It is dominated far more by feeling than by technique, and the majority of her works are motherhood scenes of the most tender affection. She gave this hackneyed motherand-child theme a new freshness by stripping it of all artifice and literature. Just as the great Impressionists show us landscapes in their everyday lighting, Mary Cassatt shows us mother and child in all their simplicity, when their gestures are not made for the purpose of being seen and reproduced. By participating in this rehabilitation of the acts of everyday life, which was a characteristic of the Impressionist movement in which she felt so much at home, Mary Cassatt made a very personal and important contribution to the body of Impressionist creation.
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