Archive | February, 2021

Mary Cassatt: Studying the Masters (Part 3)

28 Feb

My watercolor rendition of Frans Hals oil painting – one that Mary Cassatt enjoyed copying as well.

This week I read about Mary Cassatt admiring the work of the 17th century Realists, studying their work intensely then moving on to study the works of Correggio and Parmigianino (both Italian painters).  She learned intaglio printmaking at the local academy which she put to use later in her art career.  In the early years she worked primarily in oils.

Cassatt was living in Parma, Italy during this time.  She was about 26 years old and didn’t speak much Italian.  She kept a strict schedule but did take time to travel to Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands studying all the masters: Velasquez, Goya, Murillo, Rubens, Hals, and more.  The Parma locals must have found it amusing to see an American woman climbing up and down ladders to study the frescoes in their cathedrals.  Although I did read in an online biography that after her 1872 Salon acceptance and painting purchase, locals all wanted to meet her and see her art.

Cassatt kept some of her own favorite copies to show young artists when they would come visit her.  She encouraged them to learn the way she had, by studying the masters.

It would be difficult today, with the pandemic restrictions, to see the masters’ paintings in person but I’ve discovered many museums have online resources available.  The web is now our window into the museum and we don’t have to wait until museum hours or pay a fee – we are free to study these great paintings any time we please.  I’ve posted links to many museums in my “Free Inspiration with Virtual Tours” blog post from August 2020 which you can visit.

How important is it for today’s artist to study the masters?  I’d love to hear what others think about this.  Share your comments below.


Mary Cassatt: Becoming a Professional Artist (Part 2)

14 Feb
Woman bathing at sink - my copy of Mary Cassatt painting.
My watercolor rendition of Mary Cassatt’s oil painting “Woman Bathing”.

Continuing deeper into my Mary Cassatt book, I discovered that she spent about four years in Europe transitioning from an art student to a professional artist.  I think this is REALLY quick.  Apparently this change happened when her painting “The Mandolin Player” was accepted into the Paris Salon.

 “The Mandolin Player”

The Salon was the famous art gallery in Paris, the center of the art world.  The Salon Art Show was the annual event the world watched and anyone who was anything would be there!  She was proud of her accomplishment but her father and her family were not so impressed.  Her brother even wrote the following letter to his fiancée:

              “Mary is in high spirits as her picture has been accepted for the annual exhibition in Paris.  You must understand that this is a great honor for a young artist and not only has it been accepted but it has been “hung on the line.”  I don’t know what that means but I suppose it means it has been hung in a favorable position.  Mary’s art name is “Mary Stevenson” under which name I suppose she expects to become famous, poor child.”

Cassatt did use her middle name “Stevenson” in her Salon submissions thinking it sounded more American than Cassatt and that it might help her acceptance.  To be “hung on the Line” meant your work was hung at eye level when many artworks were hung all up and down the wall, Salon style.  It was an honor to be hung at eye level.

I’ve often thought about the transition from art student to professional artist.  What makes the difference?  Is it being accepted into a prestigious show? Is it selling a piece of art?  Is it when you’ve completed your University degree?  Or is it more than that?  I like to think of it as an attitude and how you approach your creative calling.   There is a definite commitment – of time, of resources, of energy – and it involves passion and determination.   It’s also when you pursue your passion despite naysayers or roadblocks.  I’m finding Cassatt’s story very inspiring.

I’d love to hear others ideas on turning professional or overcoming negatives to pursue their calling!  Please share with me.

Here is another interesting article on becoming a professional artist.

On becoming a professional writer.

On becoming a professional musician.


Mary Cassatt: American Qualities

4 Feb

Little Girl in Blue Armchair
My watercolor sketchbook version of “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” by Mary Cassatt, 1878, oil on canvas

I’ve been slowly reading through a very large pile of old art books that I’ve had in my studio for years and was inspired by a 1970s Swiss paperback by Jay Roudebush, “Cassatt”.  This thin book is wonderful with full pages of color prints and inspiring stories of Cassatt’s life.

Mary Cassatt has been listed as one of the three greatest female impressionist painters.  (The other two: Bracquemond & Morisot)  Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, PA which is now the North Side of Pittsburgh, in 1844.   She spent most of her adult life in France where she met with other Impressionist painters, including Edgar Degas. 

Cassatt came from a wealthy family which enabled her to travel and receive her art education in Europe.  Her father had actually objected to her artistic career choice early on as an unorthodox and scandalous thing during the Victorian times.  “I would rather see you dead,” he once told her before he later relented.

Cassatt’s mother served as an escort to Paris, enabling her to begin her formal art studies.  But she found her teacher to be a bland academic painter and abandoned the training, choosing instead to study independently at the Louvre and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

“One does not need to follow the lessons of an instructor”, Cassatt said, “The teaching of museums is sufficient.”

Cassatt sounds like she was a very determined and strong-willed artist with a serious focus.  This book explains these as “American qualities”.   I’m looking forward to sharing more from this old book.  Have you ever considered what “American qualities” you have that may influence your creativity?  I’d love to hear what you think!

More about Mary Cassatt .

Mary Cassatt Information.

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