Mary Cassatt: Painter, Printmaker, Feminist

Mary Cassatt: Painter, Printmaker, Feminist

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, born in 1844, was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in Pennsylvania, but spent most of her life in France, where she befriended many Impressionist painters, and where she subsequently exhibited works with the Impressionists. Mary first exhibited her work alongside the Impressionists in 1877 — the only American artist to exhibit her work with them.

Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of her subjects, with a particular emphasis on the human form and the intimate bonds between mothers and children. In 1893, Mary Cassatt created the oil painting with mother figure and a young child. The scene captured the ritual of a parent bathing a child.

The painting, entitled The Child’s Bath, with its then unorthodox composition, is considered one of Cassatt’s masterworks. Cassatt utilized new techniques like cropped figures, bold outlines, and 2-D perspective, most likely derived from her passion for Japanese woodblock prints that was sparked after she saw Japanese woodcuts at the Beaux-Arts Academy in Paris during an exhibition.

The Child's Bath

The Child’s Bath

Cassatt was greatly influenced by Impressionist like Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, and especially Edgar Degas. Though her painting genre innately put her in the company of mostly men, Cassatt was a feminist from a young age and attempted to avoid the stereotype of being just a female artist.

As well as being an accomplished painter, Mary Cassatt was an activist as well as feminist and supported women’s suffrage. In 1915, she showed eighteen works in an exhibition supporting the movement organised by Louisine Havemeyer, a stalwart, active feminist.

Though many unfamiliar with her history would deem her as just the female Impressionist artist, Mary Cassatt was an intrepid and open-minded artist with the true spirit of the Impressionist movement within her. Her intimate portrayals of the human figures and their interactions were markedly different from her male counterparts, and her contribution cannot be dismissed.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt died on June 14, 1926 at Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, and was buried in the family vault at Le Mesnil-Théribus, France.