Mary Cassatt. Great American Impressionist

Cassatt. Self portrait
Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Self portrait. 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Self portrait. 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was born in a rich family. She could have lived a careless life. Could have got married and had children. But she chose a different road. She vowed celibacy for the sake of painting. She was on friendly terms with Edgar Degas. Once in the impressionist environment, she became addicted to this style once and for all. And her “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” is the first impressionist painting saw by the public.

Cassatt little girl in a blue armchair
Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA.
But nobody really liked the painting. In the 19th century, children were portrayed as obediently sitting angels with curled locks and pink cheeks. And here we see a child, who is obviously bored and is sitting in an over-unstudied pose. But it was childless Mary Cassatt, who was almost the first one to start showing them as natural as they were. For the time, Cassatt had a serious “drawback”. She was a woman. She couldn’t afford to go to a park alone to paint from life. All the more, she couldn’t visit a cafe where other artists gathered. They were all men! What did she have to do?
Mary Cassatt. The Tea. 1880.
Mary Cassatt. The Tea. 1880. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

To paint monotonous women’s tea parties in living rooms with marble fireplaces and expensive tea sets. A slow paced and extremely boring life. Mary Cassatt didn’t live to see her paintings appreciated. At first, she was rejected for her impressionism and the alleged incomplete paintings.

Then, as recently as in the 20th century, it unexpectedly became “outdated”, since art nouveau (Klimt) and fauvism (Matisse) became en vogue.

Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. 1910.
Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. Pastel, paper. 1910. Dallas Museum of Art, USA.
But she stuck to her style to the end. Impressionism. Subdued pastel. Mothers with children.

Cassatt gave up on motherhood for the sake of painting. But her female principle increasingly manifested itself in such tender works as “Sleepy Baby”. It’s a pity that the conservative society once presented her with such a challenge.


If my style of presenting information is close to you and you are interested in studying art, I can send you a free series of lessons to your email. For this, please fill in a simple form at this link.

About the author

Go to home page

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

%d bloggers like this: