Biography of Mary Stevenson Cassatt

Essay by erineeeCollege, Undergraduate December 2009

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Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844 - June 14, 1926) was an American painter and printmaker. She lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Pittsburgh. She was born into favorable circumstances: her father, Robert S. Cassatt, was a successful stockbroker, and her mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. Cassatt grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education; before she was ten years old she had already visited many of the capitals of Europe, including London, Paris, and Berlin.

Even though her family objected to her becoming a professional artist, she began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1861-1865).

Impatient with the slow pace of instruction and the patronizing attitude of the male students and teachers, she decided to study the old masters on her own, and in 1866 she moved to Paris.

Returning to the United States at the outset of the Franco-Prussian War, Cassatt lived with her family. Her father continued to resist her chosen vocation, and paid for her basic needs, but not her art supplies. She returned to Europe in 1871 when the Archbishop of Pittsburgh commissioned her to paint copies of paintings in Italy, after which she traveled throughout Europe.

Shortly after her triumphs with the Impressionists, Cassatt quit painting to care for her mother and sister, who fell ill after moving to Paris in 1877. Her sister died in 1882, but her mother regained her health, and Cassatt resumed painting by...