Mary Cassatt is an American treasure, although it was not until after her death, in 1926, that she received the recognition that she deserved.
She was born into a wealthy banking family in Philadelphia, and went on family trips to Europe, where she was exposed to great art and culture and could speak both French and German.
When she was sixteen, her parents allowed her to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where there were a few female students, but women were not allowed to attend classes where there were live models and had to draw from plaster casts. Becoming an artist was not something women did in the 1860s. They were expected to become wives and mothers, but Cassatt wanted more. She was determined to make art her career.
She wanted to study in Paris, over the objections of her father. With the help of her mother (who accompanied her to Paris as chaperone), Cassatt went on to overcome many societal limitations and become one of America’s finest artists and influential proponents of art in America.
Mary Cassatt’s Mothers and Children
As a single woman, Mary Cassatt couldn’t sit alone in cafes or in the clubs and dance halls that her male counterparts had access to. She also had to deal with the scorn that was shown to female artists who wanted their works exhibited in galleries and salons.
In order to earn a living and paint on a daily basis, Cassatt painted women and children, who were comfortable posing in her studio and in their homes. Although this limited her subject matter, it didn’t limit her talent and she became a masterful painter.
Her career was greatly enhanced when Edgar Degas, whose work she greatly admired, became a friend and mentor, and invited her to join a show of independent Impressionist artists in 1877. Through Degas she met, and became accepted by, many of the finest artists in Paris, who were moving away from traditional, academic art to more expressive ways of depicting daily life.
Influenced by an exhibit of Japanese woodcuts, Cassatt expanded her work through etching and printmaking.
In 1886 she was included in the first major exhibition of Impressionist art in the United States, held at the Durand-Ruel galleries in New York. Still, her works were better known in Europe than America.
When she returned to Pennsylvania for a visit, in 1899, the Philadelphia Ledger wrote, in the society column, “Mary Cassatt, sister of Mr. Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, returned from Europe yesterday. She has been studying painting in France, and owns the smallest Pekingese dog in the world.”
Today, Mary Cassatt’s works are part of the permanent collections of major museums around the world and have set records at auction.
Mary Cassatt at Surovek Gallery
Please contact us if you would like more information about Sketch of a Mother Looking Down at Thomas, or any of the other fine art works at Surovek Gallery.
Alexander Eliot. Three Hundred Years of American Painting. Time Incorporated. 1957.