Mary Stephenson Cassatt

Biography

Mary Stevenson Cassatt
1844 – 1926

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania to an upper middle-class family. Her mother, Katherine, came from a banking family and as such was educated as well as highly literate. She strongly influenced Mary both as a role model as well as by providing opportunities to travel internationally and to take lessons in drawing and music. Mary formally studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts though soon grew weary of the fact that female students could not use live models. She left the Academy without a degree and studied the Old Masters on her own. Cassatt eventually moved to Paris where she studied privately with Jean-Leon Gérôme and drew daily at the Louvre.

Cassatt went unnoticed until 1868 when one of her paintings was selected for the prestigious Paris Salon. This began a highly successful career. Mary became friends with Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. While many of the Impressionists focused on landscapes and street scenes, Mary created portraits. She painted images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. This is ironic given the fact she declared herself unfit to be either a mother or a wife. Cassett once said her goal was to depict women as “subjects, not objects.”

She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of “les trois grandes Dames” (Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and Marie Bracquemond) of Impressionism. Her work can be found in prestigious art museums around the world.