Tag Archives: american artists

Mary Cassatt: Onward

3 Jun
My watercolor version of “Lilacs in a Window” 1889 Oil by Mary Cassatt.

Reading on in my book “Cassatt” by Jay Roudebush (1979 Bonfini Press Corp., Switzerland) I was surprised to read that Mary Cassatt didn’t have her first solo show until age 46.  The solo show (1891) was at the Durand-Ruel which had several galleries within.  She had worked long and hard to prove herself and considered herself equal to her male contemporaries.  She felt gender was irrelevant when it came to art. Unfortunately, a group of artists (many of whom had exhibited with her in the past) formed an organization “Society of French Painters and Engravers”.

Their organization, which still exists today, only allowed French artists, thus excluding both her and Pissarro.  While they had their group show in the large gallery of the Durand-Ruel, Pissarro was in one of the smaller galleries and Cassatt in the other.  Pissarro wrote to his son before the exhibition opened saying “We open Saturday, the same day as the patriots, who, between the two of us, are going to be furious when they discover right next to their exhibition a show of rare and exquisite works.”*

Cassatt’s exhibit of four paintings and ten color prints received praise and a subsequent exhibit in New York.  Soon she was offered a commission to create a mural for the 1893 Chicago World Fair.  It was a project larger than anything she had ever done.  She created a magnificent work with a wide ornamental border all around and divided the composition into three panels.  The panels were labeled: Young Women Picking the Fruits of Knowledge and Science, Young Girls Pursuing Fame and Music and Dance.

Unfortunately the mural was hung 40 feet off the ground which was nearly impossible to see.  Even more disappointingly was the news that at the close of the Fair, the murals were either lost or destroyed and to this day there in no trace of them.

Cassatt never again attempted mural work but she did start painting larger paintings.  In 1893 she held another solo show with 98 works at Durand-Ruel’s Paris galleries and found a lot more success in France than America.  In 1895 Durand-Ruel opened a New York gallery and she had her first solo show in America.  The response was disappointing.

After some time, Cassatt decided to focus her energies on helping her friend Louisine Havermeyer and her husband build a family art collection.  They traveled together through Italy and Spain collecting bargain art that included Goya, El Greco and Titian.  Many are on display at the MET.

Mary Cassatt continued painting but after her mother died she decreased in output.  Her reputation in America continued to grow and she was awarded some prizes which she rejected.  Cassatt declined awards on principle, which all who joined the Independents (Impressionists) had agreed: no jury, no medals and no awards.

Cassatt’s story has many analogies for artists (and all creatives) today.  She was focused and determined to create her art as well as sharing art with the world through great collections.  I find it a positive story in many ways.  Do you have a favorite artist or writer that is a good example for you?  I’d love to hear from others.

***

 *Pissarro, C., Letters to his Son Lucien, John Rewald, p 158