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Mary Cassatt ```` An American Impressionist

Mary Cassatt was one of the most important Impressionists throughout history.  She was born in 1844 in Pennsylvania.  The idea of being a woman artist was unthinkable when Mary was younger, but she was extremely determined and learned how to paint well.  For this reason, she obtained the best training and enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the fall of 1861.  Her education began with pencil sketches of statues and simple shading techniques.  However, Mary wanted more.  She wanted to be able to take part in the life class offered only for men.  This was a class in which there were live, nude models there for the artists to sketch.  She was so determined that her and her friend, Eliza Hadelman, started their own class and took turns posing for each other.  As her technique improved, she then decided that it was time to move on to the center of the art world: Europe.  She traveled there and eventually settled in Paris in 1874.  When she first arrived, she worked in the studio of Charles Chaplin.  It was there that she began to draw farmers and common people instead of studio models.  Eventually her own subjects became young children alone or with their mothers.  She got her interest in the subject from the legendary Italian artist, Correggio, and this was the subject matter that which she continued on with throughout her career.  


The Boating Party, 1893-4. Oil, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

One of the most influential events that occurred and effected Mary Cassatt's art was her introduction to Edgar Degas in 1877.  He belonged to a group of artists who were rebelling against the strict rules of the Salon.  The Salon was a sort of art regulation committee in Paris.  The single-handedly chose what kind of art was acceptable at the time.  This group of artists Degas belonged to were known as the Impressionists.  Mary took an active interest in Impressionism and it wasn't long until he invited Mary Cassatt to join the Impressionist circle.  Mary held a very strong opinion of Degas, and respected all of his ideas about the proper composition of a respectable painting. 

  Breakfast In Bed, 1897.

Mary Cassatt's artistic ability did not end with just painting and sketching.  She also took a very active interest in watercolors and pastels.  However, the medium that made her the most well-known was printmaking.  Printmaking is performed by drawing lines with a hard needle on a copper plate.  From this, you are able to roll ink onto it and print your picture onto paper. Mary copied this style from Japanese artists and soon mastered the technique.  It involves mostly one-dimensional and very simple drawings that contain very few lines.  Soon Mary Cassatt was exhibiting her prints, making a huge number of them in the process.  It has also been said that Mary was one of the most impressive printmakers throughout her generation. 

The Bath, 1891-2.

Mary Cassatt was one of the most contributing artists of her time.  Her progression as an artists changed dramatically throughout her career.  Starting with sketches, she then progressed to create paintings of brilliant light and shallow contrast.  These works were generally more gentle with golden lighting.  After this came her Impressionist era, and soon following began her involvement with printmaking.  By this time, the 1890s, her colors were much clearer and bolder than in her previous works.  Mary's career came to an end when she lost her eyesight in 1914.  Twelve years later, in 1926, a very bitter Mary Cassatt died at her estate in France.  The body of her work includes 225 prints, 300 oil paintings, 400 pastels, and hundred of watercolors and drawings.  Besides this enormous collection, Mary also received many awards during her lifetime.  She received the French Legion of Honor, which is the highest honor she ever obtained.  Also, Mary was awarded the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts' Gold Medal Honor.  At this time it was very rare for women to receive any of these awards.  However, none of these awards she received can ever compare with the gift that she has brought to this world.  She not only brought Impressionism to America, but I think that she also helped to change art into what it is today.