American artist, Mary Cassatt, is known as a "painter of mothers and children." She approached her favorite subject with simplicity and clarity. Born into an upper-middle class American family, Cassatt became a genteel rebel, traveling and living alone, while partaking of the bohemian life in Paris.
She was born in Pittsburgh in 1844. Her parents valued education and travel, and before Cassatt was 10 years old, she had already seen many of the European capitals.
Painting soon became her passion, despite her parent’s disapproval. In 1861, she began to study painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
In opposition to the traditional female role of the 19th century, Cassatt chose her career over marriage. She left her family and America in 1866, and claimed her independence by moving to France to pursue her career.
By 1872, her artistic style began to quickly mature. She eventually settled in Paris where her work attracted the attention of the French painter Edgar Degas. He invited her to exhibit her work with his fellow Impressionists. She was the only American to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris. One of the works she displayed was The Cup of Tea.
By the 1880’s the subject matter of her paintings became more domestic. One of the most prominent themes portrayed in her work became the relationship between mothers and children, using her own family members as subjects. Despite her domestic portrayal of women, however, Cassatt still managed to incorporate a sense of independence and strength within each character.
After 1886, Cassatt’s skill continued to grow as she became heavily influenced by the techniques of Japanese woodcuts. In their image, she began to emphasize line over mass and experimented with asymmetric composition (as seen in The Boating Party.)
Her talent and achievements were recognized with prestigious awards. France awarded Cassatt the Legion of Honor in 1904, and in 1914 she was awarded the gold Metal of Honor from Pennsylvania Academy.
Mary Cassat lost her sight after 1914, and had to retire from her passion. She died in 1926 in France – her adopted home.