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Mary Stevenson Cassatt


Mary Cassatt was a very strong, stubborn, and independent female for her time. She was
not afraid of stating her opinion and could be very frank. She is quoted as having said at one
point, After all give me France. Women do not have to fight for recognition here if they do
serious work. She painted women as individuals and not as objects, her most cherished theme
was the intimate bond between mothers and their children.
She was a very inpatient individual who decided to study the old masters on her own as
her instructors worked at too slow a pace. She had a keen eye and judicious temperament which
allowed her to help friends make wise art purchases for their collections. Cassatt was also known
to have a very competitive temperament, which was very useful while going to a mostly male
school.
Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Robert Simpson
Cassatt and Katherine Kelso Johnston, a well to do family who had arrived from Europe in the
seventeenth century. Originally, their name was Cassat but they changed it to Cassatt sometime
before 1848. Mary was the sixth child of seven total, but two of her siblings had passed in
infancy. As she had been the baby for 5 years prior to her baby brother being born, she did bore a
sense of being entitled to certain considerations and of being special due to the attention, she
received as a child.
Mary Cassatts life span from 1844-1926, she started her lessons in art around 1859 and
was in school during the American Civil War. In 1866, she moved to Paris to study with JeanLeon Gerome. Sadly, she had to leave back to the United States when the Franco-Prussian War
started in 1870, but was back in 1871 and finally took residence in France in 1874. It was not

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until 1877 that Edgar Degas invited her to exhibit her work with the Impressionist. The exhibit
took place in 1879 and was the most successful to date, Cassatt continued to paint in the
Impressionist circle until 1886. After 1886, she no longer limited her art to an art movement and
started experimenting with multiple techniques. She was most productive in the 1890s but due
to almost becoming blind, she stopped painting in 1904.
The most significant painting done by Cassatt was Lydia at a Tapestry Loom, painted
around 1880-1881 with oils in the impressionism style. The painting shows a woman with brown
hair intently working on her tapestry. The background, edges, hands, and fingers are not very
detailed and somewhat distorted; the face of the women is the most striking part of the painting
as she gazes down at her project. The woman is Lydia Cassatt, Marys oldest sister and closest
confidant who died in 1882. The death of Lydia was very hard on Mary as they had planned to
live together as two old spinsters. Mary often used Lydia as a model in her paintings and being
that this particular painting was done just 1 year before her passing makes it more sentimental.
It is a very calming picture, a picture of simpler times away from the distractions of
todays technology. It is also a sad picture, knowing that this woman would lose her life far too
early. The care that is taken to keep the face smooth draws the eye of the viewer and one cannot
help but be drawn close to this stranger from another time.
One can see the strokes that are used to form certain lines and shapes in the paining. The
painting on the left starts with light strokes, were you can still see parts of the canvas texture
showing through the paint. To the top right corner, the painting is darker, using heavier strokes.
One can see the many colors that are mixed in order to create shadow and texture. Basic shapes
are used to create objects and yet one can tell what each object is supposed to be in the painting.

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Bibliography
Frazier, Nancy. The Penguin Concise Dictionary of Art History. New York: Penguin Reference,
2000. Print.
Mathews, Nancy Mowll. Mary Cassatt: A Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998. Print.
Unknown. "Mary Cassatt Biography." Mary Cassatt Biography. Unknown, n.d. Web. 17 Mar.
2015. <http://www.marycassatt.org/biography.html>.
Wanczura, Dieter. "Edutainment Mary Cassatt Biography - 1844-1926." Mary Cassatt
Biography. Artelino GmbH, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Weinberg, H. Barbara. "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History." Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844
1926). AHDB, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.