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Mary Cassatt's Incredible Legacy in the Art World - Conclusion



Much had happened during the years Cassatt had absented herself from France. The Impressionistes were emerging as a tour de force, indeed, they had established their own exhibitions in blatant challenge to the Salon.

For that reason they were initially known as the Independentes, then the peculiar effect of the soft-focussed, somewhat imprecise style of brushwork brought them to the lasting term of Impressionism. Claude Monet exhibited his landscape Impression: Sunrise in the 1872 Paris Salon, which provoked the art critic Louis Leroy to coin the term "Impressionism" in a satiric review published in Le Charivari.



Cassatt was delighted to find that one woman preceded her in the beginnings of this new and exciting movement, in the talented form of Berthe Morisot. Morisot, who exhibited the grand sum of nine works in the first Impressioniste show, did turn out to be conventional in one regard, marriage. She spent part of each year with the Manet family at Fécamp, and soon declared her intent to marry Eugène, Edouard Manet’s brother.


Paris in the late 1870's was having a renaissance of it's own, Napoleon III had ordered much reconstruction and the famed Grands Boulevards were introduced. The cultured now paraded ostentatiously along Haussmann, Le Champs, and attended the new Opéra Garnier. Commerce had room to soar, tourists flocked, artists prospered. The Belle Époque had begun, and cultural modernity arrived to move it swiftly forward.


Cassatt had been doing portraits for some time, she was much sought after by Americans traveling abroad in the years following the Civil War. These bought baguettes and paid the rent, but did not satisfy other, deeper needs. In 1877, an admired acquaintance and fellow painter, Edgar Degas, invited her to join the growing ranks and exhibitions of the Impressionistes.

Cassatt wrote, "I accepted with joy. Now I could work with absolute independence without considering the opinion of a jury. I had already recognized who were my true masters. I admired Manet, Courbet, and Degas.

"I took leave of conventional art. I began to live.” A burgeoning and close friendship with Degas began, which lasted right up until Degas’ death in 1917. Both Degas and their outrageous peer Auguste Renoir greatly influenced her style of painting, and encouraged her to a more free and liberated manner and use of color.


Mary Cassatt, Girl Arranging Hair


That signature 'unfocussed' perspective suited her themes, which often included children, pets and gardens. Degas would later say that for him, the influence was mutual. Once, on seeing some of Mary’s work, Degas quietly admitted that he would not have believed en principe that a woman could draw so well.

While a tremendously social creature, Cassatt did not openly pursue relationships with men. It has been proposed that she and Edgar Degas entertained more than a close friendship. Good for them if they did, but there is seemingly no proof either way, and TMZ was not about to make up our minds for us.

She did have a healthy self respect, which certainly served her well in the patriarchal art world of that era. It was a deliberate choice on her part not to marry, although she encouraged her nieces and nephews to visit, and to model. She adored children, as is unmistakably clear in her prolific portrayal of them.

Mary Cassatt-Young Woman Reading

Mary Cassatt-Young Woman Reading

Mary Cassatt, The Mandolin Player, 1868.

Mary Cassatt, The Mandolin Player, 1868.

Cassatt would later say that there was "no teaching" at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. She was tremendously impatient with the snail's pace of the instructors, and understandably put out that women were not afforded the same creative opportunities as their male counterparts.

Her parents were distinctly unenthused about her concentration on art as it was, and patently hoped it was all a flight of fancy. They hoped in vain. Those years had not been easy for anyone, the Civil War raged on and Pennsylvania was right in the thick of things. Fed up with what she saw as the arrogant patronization of both teachers and fellow students, Cassatt left the Academy to pursue her own course of study, one which she structured around the Old Masters.

By 1866 Cassatt was ready for more challenging pursuits, and had badgered her father into agreeing that she might undertake study in Paris ~ with the mandatory accompaniment of her mother and family friends to provide the obligatory chaperonage. Off they sailed, leaving behind the ravages and aftermath of the violent North South conflict. Cassatt was twenty two.



What an art world to be discovered, to be relished, in the Paris of 1866 ... the prospects must have been overwhelmingly exciting for the young American painter. She did not lack confidence, but knew she wanted for the necessary classical skills and techniques that would bring her work to life.

Regarding self-portraits, she made a decidely unusual choice via her 1878 painting Woman in Black at the Opera. It depicts a woman, lately presumed to be the artist herself, seated in an opera box, apparently alone, leaning forward to peer through opera glasses at the other world of the stage. 



It was a bold and revolutionary perspective for a woman artist.




Mary Cassatt, Part Deux of the artistes' Fascinating Art History

Cassatt, The Pensive Reader

Cassatt, The Pensive Reader

Continued from Part One.

Cassatt became bosom bows with another talented young American, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, who was actually the first woman to ever exhibit at the Paris Salon. They often studied and painted together in the Louvre, which served as the sort of social and artistic venue denied them by the male-dominated, avant garde Paris cafés.

Soon after she got the nod from the Salon, it became apparent that yet another schism was taking place in the larger Paris art community. Visionaries Edouard Manet and Realist movement patron Gustave Courbet had started to pull away from traditional values, always a controversial path. This particular period was marked by works that evinced a new level of social commentary, the American Civil War was by no means the only conflict of note. Courbet was daring.

Cassatt, Sketch for 'Francoise in a Round-Backed Chair, Reading

Cassatt, Sketch for 'Francoise in a Round-Backed Chair, Reading

One of his works would not be exhibited until over one hundred years after their origin, the female genitalia-centric Origin of the World. By 1870 the signs of the upcoming Paris Commune were unmistakable, and Cassatt returned to the States for a time. She was tremendously creative, but by no means a radical. Her work remained quite conservative despite the influence of her less traditional teachers and peers. Alas, pauvre Courbet would live the last years of his life in exile in Switzerland.


Cassatt, Trying On Dress

Cassatt was not pleased to be back in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1870. One cannot spend their days traversing the cobblestones of Montparnasse and the Rue de Rivoli one month, and happily downgrade to Altoona the next.

Cassatt's work, even though placed in well-known New York galleries, was not leaping off the walls and into the homes of those who dictated the art preferences and market of the day.

Her father rather pettily showed his disapproval by refusing to bankroll her art supplies, and grudgingly providing room and board alone.

His daughter showed none of the expected interest in finding a suitable young man to marry, nor in abandoning her 'hobby' and settling down. She counted the days and weeks until she could return to her chosen home of Europe. An opportunity arose to live in Chicago and work, and she availed herself of it without hesitation. Tragically, the Great Fire of 1871 robbed her (and the world) of many of her early works.

Girl With a Banjo, by Cassatt

Girl With a Banjo, by Cassatt

It was by no means the greatest time to be an American living in the United States. Carpet Baggers headed South, slaves headed North, and politics was everywhere. Cassatt despaired of being crative in that atmosphere, and became so discouraged she threatened to quit painting. She was rescued however, by a commission of the Bishop of Pittsburgh. He asked her to set herself up in Parma and copy key Correggio works for the Church (a common practice, the 'reproduction' of Masters' paintings by young, cheap talent).

Cassatt sailed off with delight, in the last months of 1871. She spent eight extremely happy and productive months there, then moved on to Spain and studied at the Prado. Velázquez, Murillo, Titian, and Rubens were all available for her eager eyes and brushes. She added Spanish to her growing list of fluent languages, merrily visited Paris, Belgium and Rome, and became more and more fleshed out as an artist.


Mary Cassatt The Conversation 1896

Spanish Dancer Wearing a Lace Mantilla was her first Spanish-influenced work, but by the time she decided to move permanently back to Paris her closest friend and most frequent model arrived to join her ~ her beloved sister, Lydia Cassatt.

In 1874, the two sisters established a studio and an apartment in Paris, and entered the artistic life of ex-pats with great fervor. Both young women were frank to the point of rudeness, and never held back an opinion. For Mary, this offered her the rare freedom of not being overly concerned with critics or what her artistic peers thought of her.

An enviable level of independence, that. Later in life it was that brutal honesty that spurred her to describe Monet's Water Lilies as 'those glorified wallpapers', and to deem Picasso 'dreadful'. It's a shame that she and Julia Childe were not of an age, I feel that they would have been fast friends.

To be continued ...


Mary Cassatt: Some Art Serenity and That Inner Discovery of Beauty


Mary Cassatt, Children in a Garden

Fine art is one of the subjects I most love to scribble about. All politics all the time add up to more monster stressors and good ole' anxiety has more room to wiggle into our over-loaded inner lives.

Mary Cassatt knew the way.

Mary Cassatt, In the Box, 1879.

Mary Cassatt, In the Box, 1879.

  Part One

Breaking news is always the front-runner, but we hope some But the weekly opportunity to do an art post  is a strong contender. Today, I found several museum review tie-ins that did little to pique my interest, so thought to just choose an artiste. I will likely have to do this in parts, as the story is fascinating and the art delightfully plentiful.

Mary Cassatt was quite the anomaly for her day. American, classically trained yet not given to painting so, and female ... not the CV of a successful or well-regarded painter at that time. She had talent and passion, however, which still meant something then.

Much has been said and written about this dynamic nineteenth century artist, both while she grew into the personae of someone truly larger than life, and certainly as history has judged her since.

Reading Le Figuro, Mary Cassett

Reading Le Figuro, Mary Cassett

It was no mean feat for a young woman to leave the United States to brave the French art world, yet she triumphed, and not just once. She brilliantly painted mothers and children, yet fiercely independent, never chose to marry or to procreate. She was, in turn, devastatingly outspoken, no shy or retiring flower ... but I digress, and get ahead of the story.

A small town Pennsylvania girl, Cassatt had a privileged albeit conservative upbringing. Her father had created a wealthy niche for himself in stocks and land speculation, and her mother had been born into a prominent American banking family.

She traveled extensively with her parents for five of her early years, during the late 1840's and early 1850's, and was exposed to the European capitals and their cultural riches. By the time she attended the renowned Paris World's Fair in 1855, she knew in her soul that her life would be dedicated to art. She was all of eleven.

Summertime, by Cassatt

Summertime, by Cassatt

The exhibitors featured at the 1855 Fair reads like a Brittanica entry of prominent and upcoming French art royalty. Courbet, Corot, Ingres, Degas, Pissarro and Delacroix all contributed to that legendary event.

Cassatt was then just beginning to study drawing and music, as all well-heeled young ladies of that era did. Yet for her, the former would evolve into a passion rather than a de rigeur social accomplishment. When the Cassatts moved back to Philadelphia in 1859,  she began studies at the acclaimed Academy of the Fine Arts.

At age fifteen she was already focusing on painting as a discipline. And I do mean discipline, in every practical sense of the word.  Although one in five of the Academy's students was female, the majority were hobbyists, having a bit of creative, elite fun in the ramp up to socially prominent marriages. Perhaps not as much fun as they would have liked, as women students were not permitted to avail themselves of live models. [Gaah!]

It would allow her to grow and develop her natural talent, and nurture her passion.


Exceptional teachers were thick on the terre, and she was accepted to study with three of the best:  Jean-Léon Gérôme, Charles Chaplin and the eccentric Thomas Couture. His Romantic Movement style was all the rage, particularly when applied to the historical context he chose to paint primarily within.

It only took two years for one of Cassatt's works to be chosen for the iconic Paris Salon. The Mandolin Player was a decidedly conservative painting, very much in the style of the Romantic Barbizon school and of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, it's prominent yet aging leader.



At that time, women students were not welcome to stroll through the imposing portals of the École des Beaux Arts. Hence the private studies Cassatt had diligently arranged.

Arguably that particular sexist bit of nineteenth century discrimination served her career well, not only did she learn from true masters and innovators, she made connections and friendships that would keep her in good stead en France for the rest of her long life.

To Be Continued ...




Overnight: Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott



I consider this video a real find: Tennyson, Loreena McKennitt, pre-Raphaelite artists including Waterhouse, who painted the image above:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Wiki

The Lady of Shalott Wiki

John William Waterhouse Wiki

Wiki for the Tate Gallery


Overnight: Did Vermeer Use a Camera Obscura to Paint?


Vermeer movie

The embed from YouTube below is of a trailer created to advertise the movie 'Tim's Vermeer', a documentary directed by Penn Jillette.

Here's the Sony website. Tim's Vermeer

It's a fascinating story. I can't wait to see the film.

The Guardian, however, was not impressed, but so what? I am!
Guardian Review

The Guardian has missed the point, I feel. It's an amazing accomplishment by Tim Jenison even if it is not 'a Vermeer'.

See for yourself (and be sure to check out the this Boing Boing website about the film as well:


When is art too risky or offensive to display? You tell me.


controversial art

As regular readers already know, I worked for years as an artist, an actor, and a comedienne; my husband is a TV producer, my father-in-law, parents, and grandparents are/were all visual and/or musical and/or written-word artists. So our backgrounds and careers are all steeped in the arts, which is why I balk when people start deciding what is, and what isn't art.

I came across a very interesting piece at HuffPo, and I'd love to see what you guys think. Is this piece at The Cincinnati Art Museum too controversial? IMHO, it's not, because it's "provocative" art, not "real life." It's an artist's conception, his representation of life, ideas, impressions, sensibilities. It's... art.

But again, let's see what you think.

Via Martha Rosenberg, investigative reporter and award-winning author:

[A] a display at the Cincinnati Art Museum by conceptual artist Todd Pavlisko is igniting similar debate. Crown, which opened on March 15, consists of a 36-inch brass cube with 19 holes in a plexiglass case with eight flat-screens flanking visitors as they approach the cube. What is so controversial about that? The audio and video on the flat-screens record, in slow motion, the firing of a Tactical 308 rifle by a sharpshooter within the walls of the Cincinnati Art Museum which is how the cube came to sustain its holes. Nineteen bullets were fired by a Navy SEAL in 2012 past masterpieces in the museum's Schmidlapp Gallery like Warhol's "Soup Can" and Duveneck's "Whistling Boy." [...]

The rifle became an actual"drawing tool" says Pavlisko and the sharpshooter's use of physics to place each bullet on the brass cube are part of the artistic statement. [...]

While the Cincinnati Art Museum had to get city permission for creation of Crown and patrons and employees were not present during the shooting, the exhibition continues to draw antipathy.

Regular readers also know that I'm no fan of guns. I detest gun violence. However, if I lived in the area, I'd have no problem going to this exhibit without getting all worked up into a lather. Then again, I'm one of those crazy, radical artistic types who believes in free expression of ideas, both abstract and literal, visual and written. I say go for it.


"Folk artist" GW Bush tries to "wash away the stain of two wars": Doonesbury


gw bush paintings nudes via Gawker

In a previous post, GW Bush was quoted as saying, "I'm not a great artist." He left out "con." Please note, we didn't omit the C word, he did.

The brilliant cartoonist Garry Trudeau picked up where that post left off, this time zapping "folk artist" GW Bush and his latest attempts to deflect from-- or rather, paint over-- his abysmal failures and "the stain of two wars."

Note to Bush: Not only have you failed at those attempts as you have with nearly every other endeavor you've undertaken, but Iraq is still a violent mess and Iran is stronger thanks to your efforts. Way to go, "Champion of Democracy."

Trudeau neglected to mention the absence of W's most commonly used artistic materials: dried macaroni and glitter pasted onto paper plates. But he easily compensated by noting that GW Bush's "outsider art" was produced by an insider. And by insider, he surely meant war criminal.

Trudeau also skewered W's very special relationships with former Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, and his soul mate, current Russian president, Vladimir Putin. What stellar judgment the Artist Formerly Known as Dumbya had. Dick Cheney couldn't be prouder of his former vice president, er, president.

It's time to join Doonesbury on a tour of said "outsider art" at the Bush Presidential [sic] Library:

doonesbury GW Bush paintings