Art History Lab

Unveiling the Artistic Journey of Mary Cassatt: Breaking Barriers with Beauty

Mary Cassatt: A Journey Through the Life of a Remarkable Artist

Mary Cassatt, an American painter who lived from 1844 to 1926, is known for her exceptional work in Impressionism and her groundbreaking contributions to the world of art. Her paintings, admired for their beauty, sensitivity, and vivid expressions, feature mostly women and children performing everyday activities, a theme that would be her signature for the rest of her career.

This article takes us through Mary Cassatt’s life, examining her background, travels, education, and independent studies, to understand how she became a celebrated artist. Mary Cassatt’s Background and Early Years

Born into an affluent banking family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mary Cassatt was the daughter of a successful businessman.

Her family’s financial standing afforded her and her siblings with quality education and a comfortable lifestyle. However, Mary was not contented with the domestic life of a woman in the 19th century that was expected of her.

She had a profound desire to explore the world and pursue her passion for art.

Education and Travels

Mary Cassatt’s European travels were crucial in shaping her artistic career. In 1865, she traveled to Paris with her mother to pursue further studies in art.

The trip was occasioned by the Paris World’s Fair, where she was inspired to enroll in French and German studies. Despite her family’s objections at the time, Mary explored bohemian haunts where she became enthralled by feminist ideas and later became part of the Impressionists’ inner circle.

Early Education and Independent Studies

Mary Cassatt’s studies at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts left an indelible mark in her art career. She was a trailblazer of her time, being one of a few women whose art was recognized in the male-dominated field.

However, this recognition was not without challenges; Mary faced discrimination and condescension at the academy due to her gender.

Studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

At the time, the academy lacked support for women who wanted to pursue art careers, making it difficult for them to gain formal training. Despite these limitations, Mary persisted, and her talent bloomed.

She encountered bohemian behavior while at the academy, where male students painted nude models and drank excessively. For Mary, these vices were not essential to her studies.

Instead, she became engrossed with developing her skills and ideas to create works of art that would be appreciated for their sophistication and beauty.

Independent Studies of the Old Masters

After leaving the academy, Mary focused on independent studies of old masters to hone her craft further. She learned from the works of European artists, especially the Dutch and Flemish Baroque painters, such as Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

Mary’s dedication to studying art harmonized with her thriftiness. She would study masters’ works from casts and not from the original paintings, as they were more affordable to obtain.


Mary Cassatt’s story is an inspiration to those pursuing their passions. Her relentless drive and focus helped her rise above the challenges of a male-dominated industry and gain recognition for her longevity and ability.

Her dedication to her craft, independent studies, and travels gave her a diversified outlook in art. These experiences allowed Mary to break barriers and contribute significantly to Impressionism.

Today, we celebrate Mary Cassatt’s remarkable work, which continues to inspire new generations of artists. Mary Cassatt: A Journey Through the Life of a Remarkable Artist (Expansion)

Mary Cassatt’s journey as an artist was not limited to her background, education, and early career.

Her invitation to exhibit with the Impressionists marked a significant milestone in her career, leading her to establish a refined and unique style in her oeuvre. This article takes an in-depth look into Mary Cassatt’s career, from her invitation to exhibit with the Impressionists to her exceptional portrayal of mother and child relationships.

Invitation to Exhibit with the Impressionists

Mary Cassatt was invited to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1877 by Edgar Degas, who had seen her work at the Salon, where her works were regularly rejected. Degas was impressed by Mary’s use of colors, compositions, and subject matter, and he identified Mary’s potential to make waves in the Impressionist movement.

For Mary, the invitation was a significant opportunity, and she eagerly accepted it. It was a turning point that helped her gain recognition for her work outside the American art community.

Success and Continued Participation in the Impressionist Exhibitions

After her successful Impressionist exhibition, Mary continued to participate in the Impressionist exhibitions and establish relationships with her Impressionist colleagues, including Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and Claude Monet. Mary’s unique style was characterized by vivid color choices, loose brushwork, and close-up depictions of everyday life, especially women and children.

Her works often showed a fineness and sensitivity to detail that was distinct from the other Impressionists, emphasizing her exceptional talent amongst her peers.

Transitioning Beyond Impressionism

Mary Cassatt did not limit herself to Impressionism and was always experimenting with new techniques and styles. She never identified herself with any specific art movement, making her one of the most exceptional artists of her time in terms of diversity.

Her art evolved over time, transcending Impressionism to a more personal and intimate approach that reflected her personal experiences. Mary continued painting until she was in her seventies, and her distinctive style set her apart from her contemporaries.

Focus on Mother and Child Relationships

Mary Cassatt’s later years was characterized by her unique focus on mother and child relationships. Her portrayal of these relationships was unsentimental and depicted everyday lives.

Mary approached this subject with exceptional sensitivity, and she was seen as one of the few painters that had tackled the subject with profound sincerity. Her portraits of women and children focused on details of their clothing, poses, and settings, all of which helped make her art stand out from the rest.

Her works evinced women and children going about their daily lives, portraying their experiences with a vision that was grounded in the realities of their time.


In conclusion, Mary Cassatt’s life and work were driven by a rare passion for art that transcended limitations of gender and social expectations. Her journey as an artist saw her establish herself as one of the leading painters of her time, having honed her craft through her independent studies, travels, and experimentation.

Mary’s unique style that spanned numerous art movements, and her exceptional portrayal of mother and child relationships, set her apart from other artists of her time. Even today, Mary Cassatt’s exceptional talent and dedication to her craft continue to inspire new generations of artists.

Mary Cassatt: A Journey Through the Life of a Remarkable Artist (Expansion)

Mary Cassatt’s contributions to the art world were exemplary. Her style, which spanned numerous art movements, and her unique depiction of mother and child relationships made her paintings stand out.

Mary had a long and prosperous career, which spanned almost six decades, producing countless works of art, some of which remain integral to the history of American art. This article takes an in-depth look at some of Mary Cassatt’s most important works and contributions, as well as her later years and legacy.

Portrait of the Artist

Mary Cassatt’s self-portrait is one of the most significant contributions to her oeuvre. The portrait bears the influence of her friend and fellow Impressionist, Edgar Degas.

The painting depicts Mary with a hint of melancholy, which was said to be a reflection of the difficulties she faced as an artist. The portrait reveals Mary’s unique style characterized by loose brushwork, vivid colors, and great attention to detail.

The self-portrait marks a pivotal point in Mary’s career, establishing her as a force to be reckoned with in the American art scene. Mother’s Kiss

One of Mary Cassatt’s most popular works is “Mother’s Kiss,” a print that evokes Japanese influence in its composition.

The print portrays a mother kissing her child on the cheek, a theme that marks Mary’s interest in capturing mother and child relationships. The print’s composition, with its bold lines and bright colors that reflect Japanese art, remained loyal to the idea that art should be personal, unique, and imaginative.

“Mother’s Kiss” became one of Mary Cassatt’s most enduring works, inspiring a wide range of artists who followed in her footsteps.

Declining Health and Artistic Output

Mary Cassatt’s later years were marked by declining health, which led her towards near blindness. However, despite her struggles with poor health, Mary continued to work hard at her craft, producing some of her best works towards the end of her artistic career.

Her love for painting fueled her to create some of her most personal and meaningful works, inspired by her experiences with loneliness and ill-health. She remained committed to her art and continued to produce works that embodied her spirit and artistic vision.

Recognition and Influence

Mary Cassatt’s impact on the American art scene is immeasurable. However, her brother, Alexander, also a successful artist, seems to have overshadowed her contributions.

This often led to Mary being overlooked, although this did not faze her. She remained an important figure in the art scene, serving in advisory roles for art organizations and always being sought after by other artists for her expertise and advice.

Mary’s legacy continues to endure today, with her unique take on mother and child relationships and her broad involvement in numerous art movements continuing to inspire and educate.


Mary Cassatt’s contributions to the art world are noteworthy not only because of her exceptional talent but also because of her unwavering spirit and dedication to her craft. Her unique style of painting, spanning numerous art movements, remains a testament to her diversity and constant experimentation as an artist.

Her focus on the relationship between mother and child, in particular, remains her most enduring legacy. Mary’s passion for painting helped her overcome the obstacles of gender and social status, inspiring generations of artists to come.

Even today, her works continue to captivate and entrance those who view them, demonstrating the enduring nature of Mary Cassatt’s legacy. Mary Cassatt: A Journey Through the Life of a Remarkable Artist (Expansion)

Mary Cassatt’s influence on the art world is immeasurable, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to captivate and inspire artists and art enthusiasts alike.

For those seeking to delve deeper into her life and works, several recommended readings offer valuable insights and a comprehensive understanding of Mary Cassatt’s profound contributions to the art world. This article explores some of the most highly recommended books that provide context, analysis, and appreciation of Mary Cassatt’s artistry.

“Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints” by Frank Getlein

Frank Getlein, an esteemed art critic and historian, provides a comprehensive examination of Mary Cassatt’s works in his book “Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints.” Getlein’s meticulous research and engaging writing style offer readers a deeper understanding of Mary Cassatt’s artistic evolution, influences, and the societal context in which she thrived. Through detailed analysis and insightful commentary, readers gain a firsthand perspective of Mary Cassatt’s technical mastery, her use of color and composition, and her distinctive portrayal of women and children.

Getlein’s expertise and passion for art shine through in this book, making it an essential resource for anyone seeking a comprehensive exploration of Mary Cassatt’s body of work. “Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman” by Judith Barter

Judith Barter, a respected art historian, presents a retrospective exploration of Mary Cassatt’s life and career in her book “Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman.” Barter’s thorough research sheds light on the American influence on Cassatt’s artistic development, her relationships with other prominent artists of the time, and her unique contributions to the Impressionist movement.

Through the lens of a retrospective exhibition, Barter provides readers with a detailed analysis of Mary Cassatt’s works, highlighting the evolution of her style and the significant themes that ran throughout her art. Barter’s book showcases the lasting impact and relevance of Mary Cassatt’s artistry, making it a valuable resource for those interested in exploring the artist’s role as a “modern woman” in a rapidly changing society.

“Meet Mary Cassatt” by Read With You Centre for Excellence in STEAM Education

For young readers and those seeking an introduction to Mary Cassatt’s life and artwork, “Meet Mary Cassatt” by the Read With You Centre for Excellence in STEAM Education offers an accessible and engaging resource. This book presents a simplified yet informative exploration of Mary Cassatt’s life, focusing on her passion for art, her struggles, and her groundbreaking achievements.

Accompanied by beautiful illustrations, “Meet Mary Cassatt” allows young readers to develop an understanding and appreciation for the artist’s unique perspective and her advocacy for women in the art world. Through this book, young readers can embark on a journey of discovery and learn about the artistic genius of Mary Cassatt.


Mary Cassatt’s impact on the art world was profound and enduring, and several recommended readings provide invaluable insight and appreciation for her life and work. Books such as “Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints” by Frank Getlein and “Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman” by Judith Barter offer comprehensive examinations of her artistry, providing historical context, analysis of her works, and an understanding of her contributions to the Impressionist movement.

For younger readers, “Meet Mary Cassatt” by the Read With You Centre for Excellence in STEAM Education offers an introduction to the artist’s life and celebrates her achievements through engaging storytelling and beautiful illustrations. These recommended readings ensure that Mary Cassatt’s remarkable journey as an artist will continue to inspire and be celebrated for generations to come.

In conclusion, the life and art of Mary Cassatt, a remarkable artist of the 19th and early 20th centuries, continue to inspire and captivate audiences today. From her affluent upbringing and European travels to her independent studies and participation in the Impressionist exhibitions, Cassatt’s journey exemplifies the pursuit of artistic passion and breaking down barriers.

Her unique style, particularly in portraying mother and child relationships, demonstrated her talent, skill, and dedication to her craft. Despite facing challenges, Cassatt’s remarkable contributions have left an indelible mark on the art world.

Recommended readings such as “Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints” by Frank Getlein, “Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman” by Judith Barter, and “Meet Mary Cassatt” by the Read With You Centre for Excellence in STEAM Education offer valuable insights into her life and works. Ultimately, Mary Cassatt’s legacy reminds us of the power of art to transcend societal expectations and create lasting beauty.

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