Old Pastel Master: Mary Stevenson Cassatt

Mary Stevenson Cassatt pastel work

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844– 1926) was an American painter and printmaker best known for her portraits of children and her groupings of mothers and their children. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The faculty at the Academy encouraged students to study abroad. In 1865 Cassatt approached her parents with the idea of studying in Paris. Initialy they objected the idea but afterwards relented and allowed her to go. She lived much of her adult life in France. Her first exposure to French artists Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, Pissarro, Corot, and Courbet was likely at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855. Later she exhibited among them.

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt shared a very unique and intimate relationship. Both rejecting the conservative artistic directions, Cassatt’ and Degas’ restless intelligence drew them together. They inspired and facilitated each others’ artistic careers. Cassatt even proclaims “the first sight of Degas’ pictures was the turning point in my artistic life”. In fact, it was the sight of Degas’ pastel work that turned Cassatt onto pastel for the first time. Supporting Degas’s work Cassatt bought one of his pastels and brought it back to home thus making it the first Impressionist artwork to come to America. The way in which they influenced each other is apparent through their choice of subjects and the materials and techniques they used. Initially Cassatt copied Degas pastel work, but soon Degas was duplicating her innovative techniques of combining pastel, gouache and metallic paint on paper mounted on canvas, as seen in Cassatt’s “At the Theater” (1879).

She was an unconventional woman in her time, not marrying or having any children of her own, but preferring to travel and live a bohemian life alone in Europe. As a woman she succeeded in the primarily male dominated world of art and became a member of the Impressionist circle. She was the only American to have her work shown at the independent exhibitions of the Impressionists.

Interesting clip of her work you can find on youtube.

After you read all about Mary you can have fun taking the art quiz.

Resources:

Art Institute of Chicago, Wikipedia, WetCanvas, Lycos, Pricenton, National Art Galery, Olga’s gallery

Museums:

Metropolitan Art Museum, New York

Museum of Fine Art, Boston

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3 thoughts on “Old Pastel Master: Mary Stevenson Cassatt”

  1. Thank you for featuring Mary Cassatt; she is one of my favorite pastel artists and an icon of American Impressionism. Her work is timeless, emotive and mesmerizing.

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