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.
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.
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.
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 ...