Mary Cassatt was one of three famous female artists living during the 1800s. She gave her mother credit for her talent.
- Mary was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania in 1844. She had six siblings and enjoyed a comfortable upper middle-class life. Her family moved to Philadelphia when she was a young child.
- Mary’s mother was well-educated and loved to read. She taught Mary about art. The family enjoyed traveling and Mary spent five years in Europe. She learned German and French and enjoyed seeing the work of painters in France.
- When Mary was fifteen, she went to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine arts in Philadelphia. Although her parents appreciated the arts, they were not excited about their daughter becoming an artist.
- But Mary continued her studies at the school for four years. She became frustrated though because the male students and teachers refused to take her seriously. She dropped out and continued to study on her own.
- In 1866, she moved to Paris. Women were not allowed to attend the art schools there but she hired a teacher from one of the schools to tutor her privately. She also spent time at the Louvre examining and copying the paintings.
- In 1868, one of her paintings was chosen to be displayed in the Paris Salon, a great honor.
- She returned home in 1870 as war broke out in France. Her father was willing to pay for her basic needs, but not her art supplies. Although she had some paintings hanging in art galleries in New York, no one was buying her art. Discouraged, she decided to put away her paint brushes and find a “real” career.
- Fortunately, an archbishop hired her to paint copies of two paintings in Italy. Mary was thrilled to finally have some paying work.
- Mary had some success in Europe over the next few years, but many of the male artists in France didn’t like her. She could be too honest and critical.
- She became friends with Edgar Degas, a French artist who helped her career grow.
- Mary’s popularity grew during the 1890s. She loved painting pictures of women and children, especially mothers with their children.
- Mary stopped painting in 1914 after she became almost completely blind. She died in 1926.
- Archbishop: religious leader
Questions and Answers
Question: Did Mary Cassatt ever marry or have children?
Answer: No. Mary was very attached to her mother and her work. Perhaps that’s why she never wanted to marry or have children.
Watch a short video from Khan Academy about Mary Cassatt.