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.


3 Responses to “Mary Cassatt: Studying the Masters (Part 3)”

  1. Chris Lovie-Tyler March 1, 2021 at 7:29 am #

    I guess it depends on what kind of painting you want to do. It’s probably best to focus on the best examples of that. But I doubt any time spent copying any master would be wasted. You’d still learn about colour and composition and paint application and all of those things that apply to any painting.

    Unfortunately, most people probably think it’s a waste of time these days. I don’t. I just haven’t done much of it. I’ve only made three copies so far: one of (part of) Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and the others of a couple of sketches. You can see them here (

    I do study a lot of my favourite paintings closely though, and I’d like to make some more copies. I definitely think there’s value in it.

    • Katie Turner March 1, 2021 at 6:08 pm #

      Thanks for your input, Chris. It seems to be a time-honored tradition to copy others admired work and makes sense it can help today. I think you brought up a good point – many folks feel its a waste of time and would rather move on to the “good stuff”. I have my days too. I do see a difference over time when I take the time to do this kind of study. I appreciate your sharing here!


  1. Copy of Ferdinand Hodler’s Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc in the morning light – Chris Lovie-Tyler - March 2, 2021

    […] was inspired by Katie Turner’s post on studying the masters to do another copy. I found this painting in the book Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent van Gogh to […]

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