I have chosen to do my creative post for the Historical Fiction Round Table event featuring Stephanie Cowell's newly released Claude and Camille on Mary Cassatt~the only recognized woman and American Impressionist.
Mary was born in 1844 into a very wealthy family in Allegheny City Pennsylvania. She was one of seven children. Her parents were firm believers in education for both sons and daughters. They were very encouraging in broadening their children's horizons. They sent Mary as a pre-teen abroad to Europe visiting all the capital cities for five years. It was during this time that she began to pursue her talent as an artist. Her first exposure to the Impressionist was at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1855. Degas and Pissarro were exhibiting and would later become Mary's colleagues and mentors.
Upon returning to the United States Mary enrolled at the age of fifteen in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Her parents objected to her becoming a professional artist. They were concerned about the bohemian lifestyle and feminist indoctrination. Mary was not impressed with the academic at the Academy and left it with no degree granted. She wanted to study real art with live models. She finally was able to convince her father and she, her mother and a few family friends left for Paris. She studied with Jean Leon Gerome, Charles Chaplin and Thomas Couture.
Becoming a recognized and commissioned artist is a rough road at best. Mary was very frustrated. She had many admirers, but no sales. 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war Mary returned to the United States. Her father still adamantly objected to her chosen profession. He allowed her to live in the family home and paid for her living expenses, but would not allow her to spend one penny of his money on art supplies. She was so frustrated that in 1871 she wrote to her friend I have given up my studio & torn up my father's portrait...
In 1872 Mary returned to France with hopes of self starting her career. What she found was that the art world was a man's world. Female artists were seen with contempt and publicly ridiculed. Mary was very outspoken regarding this giving the public more reason to dismiss her work.
1877 was the lowest point of her career. She was rejected and humiliated. It was during this time that the Impressionist Degas came to notice Mary's work and invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists at independent exhibitions that were gaining much attendant notoriety. Mary was always an admirer of Degas, Renoir, Monet and the others. She was so grateful to Degas, they became life long friends. This was the launching of her career. Mary would go onto receive countless awards and recognition. Her legacy includes: SS Mary Cassatt a World War II Liberty Ship launched in 1943, the all-female Cassatt Quartet formed at Julliard in honor of the painter in 1985, and US Postal Service stamp collections. Her paintings have sold for as much as $2.9 million. She died in 1926 at the age of 82 near Paris and is buried in the family vault in Le Mesnil-Théribus France.
She was said to be the artist that captured the tender moment. Her art work was almost exclusively about real life scenes especially those of the mother and child. She often used her own mother, sisters, nieces and nephews as her models. She drew from observing those tender moments in life and transported them onto the canvas making them eternal. She is my favorite Impressionist.
The following are some of her more recognized works: