Mary Stevenson Cassatt holds a unique place in the history of American art. The only American to participate in the famed impressionist exhibitions, she achieved a reputation equal to those of her French counterparts.
Born near Pittsburgh, Cassatt received her early training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1866 she briefly studied in the atelier of Charles Chaplin (1825-1891) and two years later exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon. After extensive travel and study in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands, she settled permanently in France. Upon the invitation of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who became her close friend and mentor, she showed in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 as well as those of the next three years and that of 1886. She also exhibited, usually more conservative paintings, in the United States, and she painted her only mural for the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.
Typical of the impressionists was her use of a light palette and vigorous brushwork and interest in Japanese art and modern themes. While best known for her mother and child images, she also depicted various aspects of upper-middle-class life, such as scenes of the boudoir and theater. The figure, usually female, always dominates her images.
Cassatt became one of the outstanding printmakers of the period. She was also instrumental in encouraging American collectors, such as Louisine Havemeyer, to acquire paintings by the French impressionists at a time when few Europeans were interested in their art.
Achille Segard, Mary Cassatt: Un peintre des enfants et des mères (Paris: Librairie Paul Ollendorff, 1913), with lists of exhibitions and collections, bibliography § Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue of the Graphic Work (1948; 2d rev. ed., Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981) § Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, Mary Cassatt: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oils, Pastels, Watercolors, and Drawings (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970), with bibliography, indexes of owners and sitters § Griselda Pollock, Mary Cassatt (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), with chronology § Nancy Mowll Mathews, ed., Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters (New York: Abbeville, 1984), with chronology, genealogy, bibliography.