Mary Cassatt

Life Dates

Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926) was born in Allegheny City, PA, now part of Pittsburgh. A distant cousin of Robert Henri and born into a affluent family (her father being a land speculator and stockbroker and her mother coming from a banking family), Cassatt's family moved to Lancaster, and then to Philadelphia when she was six. Cassatt's family felt that travel was important to education, and spent five years visiting European capitals. Her parents objected to her becoming a professional artist, but fifteen year old Cassatt enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Their objection likely stemmed from Cassatt's exposure to feminist ideas and bohemian behavior of the male students there.

Cassatt left PAFA, resenting the slow pace of teaching and the patronizing from male teachers and students. In 1866, she went with her mother to Paris. While unable to enroll at l'École des Beaux-Arts, she was able to study privately with Jean-Léon Gérôme. Cassatt supplemented her lessons by copying at the Louvre, which was also a meeting place for American female students, who were not allowed at the cafés. Cassatt returned to the USA in 1870. She would go back to Europe in 1871 when the Archbishop of Pittsburgh commissioned her to copy two paintings in Italy and advanced her the necessary funds for the trip. In 1874, Cassatt made her new home in France, sharing an apartment with her sister Lydia. Harshly critical of modern art, Cassatt submitted works to the Salon, though she butted heads with the critics. After having her submissions rejected in 1877, Cassatt found herself painting with the Impressionists at the invitation of Edgar Degas.

1904 saw Cassatt being awarded with France's Legion d'Honneur for her contribution to the arts. A 1910 trip to Egypt impressed Cassatt with the ancient art, but at this point in her life, she had many health problems. Nonetheless, she pressed forward until 1914, when she was nearly blind. In spite of this, she took up women's suffrage and in 1915 showed eighteen works at an exhibition in support of the movement.

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