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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cassatt, Mary


Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge
1879
oil on canvas
81 x 60 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA

This is one of the several theater scenes which Cassatt painted in the late 1870s. "Cassatt created a series of theater scenes in the late 1870s, displaying an interest in city nightlife shared by many of the Impressionists. This work, showing a woman (often said to be her sister Lydia) seated in front of a mirror with the balconies of the Paris Opera House reflected behind her, demonstrates the influence of Cassatt’s friend Edgar Degas, particularly in the attention paid to the effects of artificial lighting on flesh tones. This painting was shown in Paris at the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1879, where it was singled out for much praise." (Museum of Art, Philadelphia)

"The first sight of Degas' pictures was the turning point of my artistic life. " (Cassatt)

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American painter. She was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia. From there she went to Europe to further her studies. After a time, she settled in Paris an became involved with the Impressionist school of art. She first befriended Edgar Degas in France, one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement, who had seen her paintings exhibited in Paris. Degas invited her to join their group. Degas respected Cassatt's work, seeing in her careful compositions an approach to art that was deliberate and well thought out. She found her niche with the Impressionist approach, also became friends with Manet, another member of the movement.
The Impressionists concentrated on painting and pastel art, taking scenes from real life. This school of art used brighter colors and broader brushstrokes than the old masters. She often created images of the social and private lives of women going about their everyday life, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. She was described as one of "les trois grandes dames" of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot.

Cassatt's own works were very favourably received by the critics and contributed not a little to the acceptance of Impressionism. Despite her admiration for Degas, she was no slavish imitator of his style, retaining her own very personal idiom throughout her career. Her earlier works were marked by a certain lyrical effulgence and gentle, golden lighting, but by the 1890s, largely as a consequence of the exhibition of Japanese prints held in Paris at the beginning of that decade, her draughtsmanship became more emphatic, her colors clearer and more boldly defined.

In 1893, Cassatt was commissioned to paint a mural for Chicago’s World Fair. Ironically, after all those years abroad, this mural, entitled Modern Woman, made her well known in her home country. She worked hard to encourage American museums to develop collections of Impressionist art. From all accounts, the Modern Woman title of the mural, applied equally well to the artist, herself. She was a great practical support to the movement of Impressionism as a whole, both by providing direct financial help and by promoting the works of Impressionists in the USA.