Question of the Week
Mary Stevenson Cassatt is known as which type of painter?
Mary Stevenson Cassatt was one of the first American-born Impressionist painters. Though we often associate her with Philadelphia, she was born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh) and lived most of her life in Paris, France. Cassatt spent much of her youth in Europe; however her Philadelphia connection began in the 1860s when she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). She was one of a group of female students who helped to introduce “life” classes – those dedicated to drawing from live models - by modeling for each other. After studying at PAFA, she returned to Europe where she took more private art lessons in Paris. Though she briefly returned to Philadelphia in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, she again made her way back to Europe in mid-1871 once the war was over and she permanently settled in Paris.
Cassatt developed relationships through her artwork, which was regularly displayed in Paris Salons, but her friendship with Edgar Degas helped cement her place among the Impressionists. Under the influence of Degas and other Impressionists, Cassatt improved her skills, experimented with composition and forayed into printmaking. She became known for her depictions of family, particularly mothers and children, and produced works in pastel and paint, as well as prints. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, for example, has Maternal Caress (c. 1896) and Mother and Child (Maternal Kiss) (1897).
Though Cassatt lived in Europe, she maintained ties to the States and often sent her works back for exhibitions. She also stayed in touch with local family members, such as her brothers Alexander J. Cassatt who lived in Berwyn and served as President of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1899 to 1906, and J. Gardner Cassatt, a local financier and from whom the Cassatt House at 1320 Locust Street is named.
Later in life, Cassatt served as an advisor to art collectors from the United States. Through this work, she helped develop some important collections, including the Havemeyer collection, most of which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She eventually gave into failing eyesight and stopped producing work in the early 1900s. She died in 1926 in her country home in France.
HSP's library contains numerous publications on Cassatt, including biographies and catalogs of her work. HSP is also located on the same block as the Cassatt House.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.