Mary Cassatt

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Marry Cassatt was a renowned American painter, who ranked among the leading artists of the Impressionists movement of the 1800s.

Mary was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, as the daughter of a prosperous real estate and investment broker. Mary was brought up according to the family’s affluent social status and all the moral values, her schooling was aimed at making her the perfect housewife and mother, and included lessons in homemaking, embroidery, sketching, music and painting. Women in those days were greatly discouraged to take up careers, and she persuaded her father, who enrolled her in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, at the age of sixteen. At the Academy, Mary was frustrated and disappointed by the male domination and she decided to quite the program and travel to Europe to extensively study the works of the Old Master on her own.

Her family had strong objections to this decision, and father was particularly enraged, and is said to have declared that he would rather see Mary dead than living in foreign land as a “bohemian”. Regardless of the domestic pressure, in 1866, Mary left for Paris where she commenced her education with private art lessons at the Louvre. She spent the next two years studying and copying masterpieces of the wall of the Louvre, when suddenly, in 1868, one of her portraits were accepted for the annual exhibition sponsored by the French government at the prestigious Paris Salon.

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, forced a reluctant Mary to return home to her parents, where she immediately began to crave and miss the artistic freedom and self-expression she enjoyed on the streets of Paris, and to make matters worse, her father absolutely refused to spend a single cent on her art supplies. Mary tried selling some of her paintings to art dealers in New York and Chicago, but she met no success and in 1871, some of her paintings were burnt in an accidental fire.

In the midst of all this turmoil, she received a commission from the archbishop of Pittsburgh to pain copies of two famous works of the renowned Italian painter, Correggio. In 1872, her paintings were exhibited at the Paris Salon, and she became a regular contributor to the Salon which served to firmly establish her as an influential and notable artist. She conducted extensive travels to Spain, Rome, and Belgium and finally, settled in Paris. Her friendship and deep admiration for renowned painter Edgar Degas had a profound influence on her work.

In 1879, Mary exhibited 11 of her iconic paintings with the Impressionists, the show garnered her immense critical acclaim, praise and great commercial success that continued to follow her other exhibitions for the next two years. In 1871, she was forced to disappear from the art scene in order to nurse her sick mother and sister, her sister passed away in 1882, while her mother recovered shortly after, and Mary was able to resume painting.

Mary became a key figure in the Impressionists movement, particularly famous for her remarkably exquisite and thought provoking portraits, that depicted the role of women in the domestic lives, particularly the relationship of a mother with her children, her paintings were unconventional and bluntly honest and natural in their portrayal. In 1891, she developed her famous and iconic work, Woman Bathing and The Coiffure.

Marry Cassatt became increasingly sick towards the end of her life, and after becoming afflicted with diabetes she begin to lose her eyesight, and was forced to stop painting. She lived for the next 11 years of her life in completely blindness, tragically robbed of her greatest pleasure in life, to paint. She died on June 14, 1926, in Le Mesnil-Theribus, France.

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