Allegheny City, Pennsylvania United States
Mary Cassatt's father, a
In 1893 she was commissioned to paint part of the decorations at the World's Fair in
Edgar Degas, the women-hating perfectionist, was Cassatt's closest male friend. He admired her talents, and proceeded to teach her a good deal of his own almost cruelly precise draftsmanship, which has never been surpassed for subtlety. From the Impressionists who became her friends she got the habit of subordinating form, space and texture to the pure play of light, and of giving her pictures a modest, if contrived, sketchiness. Cassatt's most telling device was her own: she painted plain and sometimes charmless people in classically noble poses, and with the same care that earlier artists lavished on saints and goddesses.
Cassatt was an assertive woman with a penchant for high fashion and high teas. She wasn't pretty, with a ruddy complexion, snub nose, brown hair and big hands. She was a connoisseur of fashion magazines. At 5 feet, 6 inches, she appeared statuesque, even elegant in high-collared dresses, scarves, feathered hats and parasols. She traveled extensively, braving disease, bed bugs and cold.
Cassatt herself was truly modern for her time. An automobile enthusiast, she bought a Renault in 1906. She was a vegetarian for a while. She attended seances and, while not a particularly religous woman in the conventional sense, she was interested in Spiritualism. The movement was a perfect fit: It preached equality of the sexes and placed high value on children. Cassatt never married, but she lived a full family life until her death in 1926. Her parents, sisters, nephews and nieces were always visiting her villa on the
She could also be generous. As she never lacked for money (her brother became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad), she quietly lent much of it to Paris Dealer Durand-Ruel to help back the Impressionists and sold Pissaro (of whom she said "he could have taught stones to draw correctly") at her tea parties. She was largely responsible for the Havemeyer collection, which stocked
"Woman's vocation in life," she once said,"is to bear children." She produced hundreds of children, but they were all on canvas. Around 1910 she began to go blind and had to curtail her work. She died on June 14, 1926 at Chateau de Beaufresne, near
No Artwork Available.