Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Artist of the Week: Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was an artist of surprises, mostly small, but often subtle and profound. Cassatt is known as a "painter of mothers and children." Mary Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. Mary Cassatt is considered the first American Impressionist artist, she was born in Pittsburgh and lived in France. Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, into a well-to-do family. The Cassatt family was of French Huguenot origin; they escaped persecutions and came to New York in 1662. Cassatt grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education; she spent five years in Europe and visited many of the capitals, including London, Paris, and Berlin. Mary Cassatt had her first lessons in drawing and music while abroad and learned German and French. Mary Cassatt's first exposure to French artists Ingres, Delacroix, Corot, and Courbet was likely at the Paris World's Fair of 1855. Also exhibited at the exhibition were Degas and Pissarro, both of whom would be future colleagues and mentors.

"lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly" impressionistic painting by Mary CassattMary Cassatt chose career over marriage, and left the United States in 1865 to travel and study in Europe. The fact that Mary Cassatt had chosen to seek a vocation at all would have been startling to any well-to-do parents of a daughter in the early 1860s. Her decision to become a professional artist must have seemed beyond the pale, given that serious painting was largely the domain of men in the 19th century. Often traveling alone, Mary Cassatt studied in Paris, Rome, Parma and Seville, before returning and settling permanently in the French capital in 1874. Aided by her elder sister, Lydia, who joined Mary in Europe, she took an apartment and studio. Lydia was not only her older sister, but also Mary Cassatt's closest friend and often times her model. There are eleven known works with Lydia, including "Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly." The painting, painted in Cassatt's early Impressionist manner, was posed at Marly-le-Roi, some forty miles west of Paris, where the artist's family spent the summer of 1880. The painting was included in the exhibition held by the French Impressionists in Paris in 1881. The most important influence on Cassatt in the years before 1875 was exercised by Edouard Manet. Although he did not accept students, Mary Cassatt saw his works and they were much discussed both by painters and art critics. The paintings she produced in this period, of women flirting, tossing flowers, sharing refreshment with a bullfighter, reveal a young artist eager to combine the skill of the Old Masters with the adventuresome subject matter of the moderns. It was while walking past a Paris gallery window in 1874 that Mary Cassatt first saw a bold pastel of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas. That same year, Degas saw Cassatt's entry in the French Academy Salon.  read more

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