Women of the World Wednesday: Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) was born in Pennsylvania, the fifth child to a wealthy family. At the age of 7, the family relocated to Paris. After a few years abroad, they moved back to Philadelphia after the death of her brother, Robbie.
When Mary was 16, she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, one of the few cultural institutions that accepted female students. Mary stayed at the academy for 2 years before becoming frustrated with the inequality and condescending nature of the male students and teachers. She felt convinced that the best way to continue her education would be to pursue her studies in Europe. She returned to Paris in 1866, spending the next two years in private art lessons and studying masterpieces at the Louvre.
A few of Mary’s paintings were featured in the 1868 and 1870 exhibitions at the Academy of Fine Arts, but during this time, she began to move away from her formal training to adopt impressionism. She was particularly influenced by Edouard Manet, Jean Courbet, and Edgar Degas.
Mary returned to the United States in 1870 to escape the French/Prussian war, but during her stay with her parents, her father refused to support her work, and some of the paintings she hoped to sell were destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. Things began to look up in 1872, when a bishop in Philadelphia commissioned her to make two copies of religious artwork originally done by Correggio.
Soon after, Mary saved up enough money to return to Paris. At an exhibition showcasing some of her art, she met Edgar Degas, who was very impressed with her work, and the two became close friends.
During this time, it was rare for females to become artists, and Mary further distinguished herself by developing the pieces she is most well known for - her series of mothers and children. She captured the quotidian life of women, with special attention given to the intimate relationship between a mother and her child.
While Mary received widespread fame in Europe - she received the French Legion of Honor in 1904 - she was not well known in her home country. She gained success at a solo exhibit in New York in 1893, but it wasn’t until after her death that gained the recognition she deserved.
Source: "Mary Cassatt." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 22. Detroit: Gale, 1997. Biography in Context. Web. 11 Aug. 2014.