Today my painting for My Daily Art Display is a work of art by the American artist Mary Cassatt. She was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Pittsburgh, in 1844 and was the fourth of seven children, two of whom died in infancy. She came from a wealthy family. Her father, Robert, was a wealthy stockbroker and land speculator and her mother, Katherine, came from a banking family. She and her family moved from America to Europe when she was seven years of age, where they travelled from country to country before returning back to America. This European “adventure” was looked upon, by the affluent, as an aid to a good education and offered an understanding of different cultures
Mary decided that a life as an artist was for her but her parents disapproved. However she was, even at this young age, very headstrong and wasn’t to be discouraged and at the age of fifteen studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. She became disillusioned with the Academy and the way budding female artists were treated and despite her father’s disapproval and his many objections, which she finally overcame, in 1866 she travelled to Paris, initially chaperoned by her mother and some family friends. Whilst in Paris she met and was taught by Camille Pissarro, the great French Impressionist painter. She was a great admirer of the works of Edgar Degas whom she met and became great friends with. He was to have considerable influence on her life and her art work. As time went on the Impressionist movement in Paris benefited greatly from Cassatt who helped them both financially and by facilitating them getting their works of art recognised and accepted in American museums and galleries.
Cassatt’s family never believed that their daughter would stay long in Paris and were surprised by her determination to succeed in the French capital. Her sister Lydia, who Mary said was not just a sister but her best friend, joined her in France in 1874, so as to be company for her. Three years later her parents moved to Paris. Lydia Cassatt, as well as being very close to Mary, was also the model for many of Mary Cassatt’s most famous paintings. Sadly after long bouts of illness Lydia died in 1882. This had a devastating effect on Mary who for a time stopped painting.
Mary Cassatt was an outspoken individual who was never backward in coming forward with her opinions. Some say she was too outspoken. However, being wealthy allowed her to be independent and she did not need to suffer fools. Her independent attitude and her frankness, which on occasions was considered insulting, became more noticeable as she grew older. She was highly critical of the modern artists such as Picasso and Matisse and even some of her Impressionist colleagues received her unbridled censure.
Mary was a prolific and a well respected artist on both sides of the Atlantic and her works of art when they come up for sale now realise millions of dollars. Like her friend and mentor Edgar Degas she suffered with failing eyesight and when she died in 1926, aged 82 she was blind.
Mary Cassatt’s place in the history of American art is unique, not only because she was one of the few woman artists of any nationality to succeed professionally in her time, but also because she was the only American artist to exhibit with the French Impressionists.
My Daily Art Display today is a painting completed in 1886 by Mary Cassatt entitled Child in a Straw Hat. Mary Cassatt’s favourite subjects became children and women with children in ordinary scenes. Her paintings express a deep tenderness and her own love for children. But she never had children of her own. Cassatt was fond of painting young girls in large elaborate hats and bonnets wearing frilly dresses. However in this painting the girl wears a simple plain gray pinafore and her hat, albeit very large, is a simple straw one. The child, with a furrowed brow, doesn’t look too pleased and has a sullen and slightly glum look on her face. There is an air of impatience in her expression and maybe this is due to having to pose for the artist when she would rather have been out playing.