Saturday Art: Mary Cassatt
The Boating Party, Mary Cassatt, at National Gallery of Art
(Picture courtesy of The Yorcke Project at wikimedia commons.)
One of the few women painters to attain reknown, impressionist Mary Cassatt was a Pennsylvanian who journeyed to Paris to study art. There she became part of the new art scene under the influence of those who were in the process of breaking away from the Academy that so long dictated its standards.
While her father objected to her chosen career and refused to pay for supplies for it, while supporting her in general, Cassatt found patronage and guidance from the coterie of artists in Paris and was invited to display her work with theirs.
Degas had considerable influence on Cassatt. She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognized master. The two worked side-by-side for a while, and her draftsmanship gained considerable strength under his tutelage. He depicted her in a series of etchings recording their trips to the Louvre. She treasured his friendship but learned not to expect too much from his fickle and temperamental nature after a project they were collaborating on at the time, a proposed journal devoted to prints, was abruptly dropped by him. The sophisticated and well-dressed Degas, then forty-five, was a welcome dinner guest at the Cassatt residence, and likewise they at his soirées.
The Impressionist exhibit of 1879 was the most successful to date, despite the absence of Renoir, Sisley, Manet and Cézanne, who were attempting once again to gain recognition at the Salon. Through the efforts of Gustave Caillebotte, who organized and underwrote the show, the group made a profit and sold many works, although the criticism continued as harsh as ever. The Revue des Deux Mondes wrote, “M. Degas and Mlle. Cassatt are, nevertheless, the only artists who distinguish themselves… and who offer some attraction and some excuse in the pretentious show of window dressing and infantile daubing”.
Cassatt displayed eleven works, including Lydia in a Loge, Wearing a Pearl Necklace, (Woman in a Loge). Although critics claimed that Cassatt’s colors were too bright and that her portraits were too accurate to be flattering to the subjects, her work was not savaged as was Monet‘s, whose circumstances were the most desperate of all the Impressionists at that time. She used her share of the profits to purchase a work by Degas and one by Monet. She participated in the Impressionist Exhibitions that followed in 1880 and 1881, and she remained an active member of the Impressionist circle until 1886. In 1886, Cassatt provided two paintings for the first Impressionist exhibition in the US, organized by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Her friend Louisine Elder married Harry Havemeyer in 1883, and with Cassatt as advisor, the couple began collecting the Impressionists on a grand scale. Much of their vast collection is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Mary Cassatt’s brother, Alexander Cassatt, was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1899 until his death in 1906. She was shaken, as they had been close, but she continued to be very productive in the years leading up to 1910. An increasing sentimentality is apparent in her work of the 1900s; her work was popular with the public and the critics, but she was no longer breaking new ground, and her Impressionist colleagues who once provided stimulation and criticism were dying off. She was hostile to such new developments in art as post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism.  Two of her works appeared in the Armory Show of 1913, both images of a mother and child.
Mary Cassatt ranks with those artists of the early 18th Century and often is displayed in museums with others of the period. Her subjects commonly were women and children, and often showed the relationships they formed. Her later years were full of illness, and she ceased to paint after 1914 as she had become nearly blind.
Sleepy Baby, Mary Cassatt, 1910
(Picture courtesy of Wikimedia commons.)