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How Female Painter Mary Cassatt Became an Important Impressionist Figure

Impressionist Work

Cassatt developed a recognizable style and approach to subject matter. Stylistically, her pastels and paintings are both characterized by luminous color. Her paintings feature loose brushwork, while her pastels—inspired by Degas’ use of the medium—are colorful and experimental.

While her style is celebrated, Cassatt is mostly known for her choice of subject matter. Both her pastels and her paintings overwhelmingly feature mothers and children as their subjects, depicting quiet, everyday moments between the pairs. The Barefoot ChildThe Boating Party, and The Child’s Bath each depict this interest in iconography, which has become intrinsically associated with the artist.

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Mary Cassatt, The Barefoot Child (1897)  (Photo: Bowdoin College Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Mary Cassatt, The Boating Party (1893-1894)  (Photo: The National Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath (1893) (Photo: Google Art via Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to mother-child relationships, Cassatt also featured solitary female figures as her subjects, as apparent in well-known works like Lady With a Fan. After 1900, however, Cassatt would work almost exclusively on her signature maternal portraits.

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Mary Cassatt, Woman with a Fan (c. 1878-1879) (Photo: The National Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

Like many Impressionists, Cassatt is also linked to Japonism, the study of Japanese art and, more specifically, its influence on European works. This influence is primarily evident in her interest in intimately capturing female subjects (a key feature of Japanese woodblock prints), as well the flatness of color, form, and perspective present in many of her works. Woman Bathing and The Letter both illustrate this aesthetic influence.

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing (1890-1891) (Photo: National Gallery of Canada via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Mary Cassatt, The Letter (1890-1891) (Photo: Kathleen via Wikimedia Commons)

Legacy

Along with several of her contemporaries, Mary Cassatt is viewed as one of the pioneers of early modern art. While not as widely known as other Impressionists, today, she is becoming increasingly studied, exhibited, and recognized for her contributions to the history of art.

Mary Cassatt Biography Mary Cassatt Art Mary Cassatt Paintings Famous Female Painters

Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt (c. c. 1880-1884) (Photo: Google Art Project via Wikimedia Commons)

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.

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