Tag Archives: Mary Cassatt

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.

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

Mary Cassatt: Favorite Mediums and Subjects

19 May
My watercolor version of Mary Cassatt’s Oil painting “Young Woman Sewing in a Garden” from 1886

By the late 1870s Cassatt was producing a body of work that was far from the Salon conventions.  She was using strong brushwork and color in the Impressionist style and selecting a familiar theme of young women or children in relaxed or quiet poses.  She had a passion for structure in her compositions.

Cassatt, like Degas, enjoyed the freedom of pastel, creating a number of works.  The two artists began experimenting with layers, steam, turpentine and fixative to keep their layers pure rather than chalky.

In 1880 the Impressionists were planning to publish a journal of original prints called “Le Jour et La Nuit”.

Cassatt spent time working on engravings which she hadn’t done since her studies in Parma ten years earlier.  Unfortunately funding ran dry and the journal was never published but the preparation had pushed Cassatt to once again delve into intaglio printmaking.

Mary Cassatt chose women and children as her primary subject for her work.  What is your favorite subject?

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 “Cassatt” Jay Roudebush, Crown Trade Paperbacks, NY 1979

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.

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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.

Web Museum

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