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Mary Cassatt Artworks – The Lesser Known Impressionist!

Mary Cassatt’s artworks were highly regarded during her lifetime. Today, she is considered as one of the greatest American female painters of her time. Although born in the USA, Mary Cassatt lived most of her life in Paris. Remarkably, she was the only American artist to belong to the inner circle of the French Impressionists.

Why is she far lesser known than her male impressionism contemporaries? Read on…..

Mary Cassatt Self Portrait
Mary Cassatt – Self Portrait

A Trailblazing Artist in the 19th Century

Mary Cassatt was born in the United States. She rebelled against all expectations placed on her as a woman in the 19th century. While most young woman in her upper-class social status were looking forward to marriage, Mary Cassatt had other dreams. She decided that marriage wasn’t for her and left the USA. She studied under various European masters of art before settling down in Paris for the rest of her life.

Mary Cassatt's pastel artwork - Sleepy baby [Public Domain]
Mary Cassatt’s pastel artwork – Sleepy baby [Public Domain]

Cassatt Leaves America for Europe’s Art Capital – Paris

Despite her parents’ objections, Mary Cassatt enrolled at the age of 15 into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. However, she felt frustrated with the patronizing attitudes of the male students and teachers towards her. The art academy even banned her from participating in drawing lessons with live models. Being a female, she was only permitted to draw inanimate objects.

Fed up, Mary Cassatt left America and traveled to liberal-minded Paris together with her mother. However, progressive Paris also placed limitations on female artists. As a woman, Cassatt was not allowed to study at the prestigious Paris art school called Ecole des Beaux-Arts. So instead she hired the best private teachers available.

Woman Reading in a Garden -Mary Cassatt painting
Woman Reading in a Garden – Painting by Mary Cassatt

About Paris Cassatt says: “Women did not have to fight for recognition if they did serious work.”

Mary Cassatt’s Artworks Impress the French Impressionists

After a few years in Paris, she met the impressionism painter Edgar Degas and they became firm friends. Degas greatly admired Cassatt’s talent and and he introduced her to the French impressionists.

As soon as she saw their vibrant, colorful artworks, she left conventional art and started exhibiting her artworks alongside Monet, Renoir, Morisot, Pissarro & others.

Under the influence of the impressionists, Mary Cassatt’s artworks became brighter and more colorful. Not long after, she became an active figure in the impressionist circle. Her peers and art critics highly praised her paintings.

I had already recognized who were my true masters, Manet, Courbet and Degas. I hated conventional art & I began to live.” Quote Cassatt

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt’s Friendship

Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas were close friends and they began a long period of artistic collaboration. Neither Cassatt or Degas ever married. The two artists had neighboring art studio’s in Montmartre and frequently worked side by side, encouraging and advising one another.

Edgar Degas study of Mary Cassatt [Public Domain]
Edgar Degas study of Mary Cassatt [Public Domain]

Cassatt also socialized with other fellow artists in this circle. Camille Pissarro, for example, was an older member of the group and Mary Cassatt’s mentor.

Mary Cassatt Exposes French Impressionism Art to America

Cassatt was instrumental in introducing French impressionism to America. Through her high society connections and personal friendships, Cassatt exposed the very wealthy art patrons to the artworks of the impressionists.

Portrait of her sister: Lydia Cassatt - Mary Cassatt Artworks
Portrait of her sister: Lydia Cassatt – Mary Cassatt Artworks
[Public Domain]

The Influence of Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Prints on Mary Cassatt’s Artworks

Around the 1850s, the Western world were gaining access to the Eastern “Oriental” philosophies, culture & arts. In particular, the ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints were extremely popular.

The impressionists greatly admired the Japanese woodblock prints and many of the artists collected these prints and studied them. Many even adopted ukiyo-e elements into their own paintings.

After Mary Cassatt saw an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts in Paris, she decided to create a series of prints herself. She adapted the ukiyo-e art form and introduced everyday scenes of French women, for example, a woman caring for a child, trying on a dress or just sealing an envelope.

Why is Mary Cassatt & her artworks less famous than her male counterparts?

After Mary Cassatt’s death, art historians and the art world quickly forgot the significant contributions she made to the French Impressionism movement. Why was that?

Firstly, Mary Cassatt was a woman! As a woman in the 19th century, she was often dismissed and patronized as an artist.

Degas sarcastically says after viewing one of her incredible paintings: 

“I don’t believe a woman could draw that well. Did you really do this?”

Secondly, Mary Cassatt was an American artist who painted in a French impressionist style. Curators were always unsure whether to hang her artworks in the American or European sections, leaving her paintings in limbo.

Thirdly, Mary Cassatt’s artworks were frequently ignored by critics who couldn’t see beyond her ‘feminine’ subject matter.

Fourthly, art historians would later dismiss her as a ‘secondary’ figure in the impressionism art movement. This couldn’t be further from the truth!!!

Where you can find Mary Cassatt artworks around the world

You can view Mary Cassatt artworks in many prestigious museums all over the world.

In Paris you can find her paintings in:

In France:

  • Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux
  • Musée des Impressionnismes, Giverny

In the US, below is a partial list of museums showcasing Mary Cassatt artworks in:

  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mary Cassatt Painting
Mary Cassatt artwork [Public Domain]

If you love reading historical fiction, I highly recommend “I Always Loved You”  by Oliveira. This historical fiction book focuses on the relationship of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.  Press here for my review.

Below is an affiliate link for product that I recommend. If you make a purchase through a link, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

​For more articles about the 19th century female Impressionists, see below