Mary Cassatt

I admired Manet, Courbet, and Degas. I hated conventional art. I began to live.

-Mary Cassat

Although Mary Cassatt is associated with Impressionists, her work was often very different from her peers. Cassatt focused on people, not landscapes, and hoped to capture intimate and subtle details in relationships. Many of her most famous paintings feature a mother and child, and these pieces clearly portray maternal love. The hands of the two figures are often clasped, creating a sense of both emotional and physical closeness. Cassatt also mastered printmaking and gained much recognition for her prints. She used techniques inspired by traditional Japanese prints, like the use of contrasting patterns, a tilted perspective, and cropped subjects. In all of her work, Cassatt tended to use solid lines and clear colors, setting her work apart from the styles of the other Impressionists.

This piece is one of Cassatt’s drypoint etchings, in which she drew directly and irreversibly on the plate with a diamond or ruby-pointed stencil or stylus. The process gives the work the subtle and graceful lines of a pencil sketch. This etching features a little girl wearing a large-brimmed hat. The girl appears to be the model Margot, one of the “pretty little girls with a pretty name” Cassatt so frequently portrayed during this period, and was most likely done in 1902. It was probably a study or print to go along with the pastel Child in Orange Dress, 1902, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the pastel Margot in Blue, 1902, the Walters Art Gallery at Baltimore, MD.

Dr. Timothy Y.C. Choy of Moorhead donated this piece to Plains Art Museum in 1979.

Artist Bio

There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one, or the narrow and hard one.

-Mary Cassat

Mary Cassatt is one of the most popular American artists and is considered by many scholars to be a pioneer for women everywhere.

Mary Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania on May 22, 1844. Her prominent family moved to Philadelphia when she was 5. Her parents revered French culture and when Mary was just 7 they moved to France for 4 years. In 1860, she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and attended until 1865. She yearned to study in France, where fine art was more abundant. Although she couldn’t apply to L’Academie in France because she was a woman, she was able to take private lessons, and studied under Benjamin Constant from 1866-1869. She also studied briefly at the Royal Academy in Parma, Italy in 1872. Her training consisted of the traditional practice of copying ancient sculpture and Renaissance works, although she was also influenced by more contemporary artists such as Velazquez, Goya, Degas, Manet, and Courbet.

Cassatt continued to travel and study throughout Europe until she finally settled in France in 1874. Here she developed a close friendship with artist Degas. She was soon part of a circle of artists known as the Impressionists. While many Impressionists concentrated on painting landscapes, Cassatt’s traditional training influenced her to feature people instead of landscapes, and she strove to capture subtle relationships between the subjects of her work. She was invited to exhibit with the “Independents” and did so until 1886.

In 1874, the Paris Salon accepted one of her original compositions for exhibition, and continued to do so throughout Cassatt’s career. In 1891, she was given her first solo exhibition in Paris, where 10 color prints, 2 paintings, and 2 pastel drawings were displayed. Only two years later over 98 of her pieces were exhibited! In 1895, her show traveled to New York City, without the same success it had received in Europe. However, a mural she was commissioned to do for the Woman’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair was extremely well liked.

Not only did Cassatt create important works of art, but her social position allowed her to work as an art collector and buyer for her wealthy friends. She often purchased pieces from her artist friends if they were struggling financially. She was instrumental in promoting the spread of Impressionist art to the United States.

Tragically, Cassatt lost her eyesight in the last years of her life and was no longer able to paint or make prints. She died in her Chateau Beaufreshe, France in 1926.

Although Cassatt was an American, she spent most of her life in France and gained her fame and success in Europe. She commented that she was disappointed in her fellow Americans for not respecting her work as much as many Europeans did. Not until after her death did she become a truly celebrated American artist. Her artwork is owned by museums throughout the world, including the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago, and many others, including Plains Art Museum.

Mary Cassatt, Margo Wearing a Bonnet, (c. 1902), drypoint etching, 6 1/2 x 9 1/2″