Happy Birthday, Mary Cassatt!

/ Art News - Collections

(left, detail of) "Portrait of an Elderly Lady in a Bonnet: Red Background" Mary Cassatt, United States, 1844-1926, oil on canvas, painting. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. (right, detail of) "Portrait of an Elderly Lady" (c. 1887) Cassatt, Mary, American, 1844 - 1926 oil on canvas. Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 1963.10.7
(left, detail of) “Portrait of an Elderly Lady in a Bonnet: Red Background” Mary Cassatt, United States, 1844-1926, oil on canvas, painting. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. (right, detail of) “Portrait of an Elderly Lady” (c. 1887) Cassatt, Mary, American, 1844 – 1926, oil on canvas. Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 1963.10.7

Happy birthday to artist Mary Cassatt, who was born on this day in 1844. Born to a privileged family who viewed travel as educational and enriching, Cassatt spent much of her early life in France and Germany, where she took her first lessons in drawing and music. Though they did not approve of her aspirations to become a professional artist, when Cassatt was fifteen years old, her family allowed her to study painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Seeking faster-paced instruction, she returned to Paris in 1865 to be taught by the renowned painter Jean-León Gérôme and to learn from the works of old masters. In 1870, with the start of the Franco-Prussian War, she halted her studies in France and returned to Philadelphia.

However, just one year later, Cassatt returned to Europe and continued studying the work of old masters in Italy, Spain, and Belgium; by 1874, Paris had become her permanent home. After noticing Cassatt’s non-traditional style, Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artists known today as the Impressionists. Like Degas, she was mainly interested in figure compositions, and she gradually began to focus on women and children as her primary subjects. During her time in France, Cassatt sent many of her works to the United States to be displayed, and hers were some of the first impressionist paintings to be seen here.

Among Cassatt’s well-known works is the Etude de femme âgée en chapeau: fond rouge (Portrait of an Elderly Lady in a Bonnet: Red Background), which is on display here at the Museum, shown on the left. In this unfinished study for the Portrait of an Elderly Lady (now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), shown on the right, Cassatt has created a spirited sketch that vividly characterizes the sitter. The female subject is the same in both paintings, but the figure is positioned quite differently in each. Cassatt’s brilliant use of color and quickly applied brushstrokes contribute to the spontaneity of the Birmingham portrait, a trait that is somewhat lost in the finished painting.

What similarities and differences do you see in each painting? Which do you prefer?

 

Sources:

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46482.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cast/hd_cast.htm

http://www.marycassatt.org/biography.html

http://www.biography.com/people/mary-cassatt-9240820 – artistic-activism