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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The paintings of Mary Cassatt would offer a unique perspective within the Impressionist movement, adding an important depth to this selection of groundbreaking artists.

Her role as an American woman diverged from the status quo of this movement and over time she earned the respect of its other members.

Focus on the Mother and Child Relationship

The first thing that strikes you when viewing the paintings below is the focus of her content - almost exclusively on the lives of women and children. This is frankly a refreshing change from her male counterparts who were equally focused on alternative genres, but from male perspectives. This alone makes her an important addition to the group, even before we start to examine her considerable technical expertise which was honed over a variety of educational courses and personal experience.

The increasing correction being made in major art galleries and museums in recent years has encouraged an increased exposure on female artists for the first time, but Mary Cassatt was already high respected in her own right, surpassing any of the usual gender discussions and just being considered a fine artist, without any side notes.

Barriers to Success for Women Artists

It certainly took time for art critics to accept her work, but this must be placed in context with the fact that all other members of the Impressionist movement would also have similar experiences, even Monet. She would mark herself out early in her career as a portrait painter, but crucially would attempt to capture more natural poses of those going about their everyday lives, rather than posing directly for the painting.

This made her artworks feel entirely real and boasted integrity. They have the advantage today of helping us to learn and remember the lives of those in the late 19th century. Many of her paintings would be domestically-based, which represented the role of women at that time in society, but there were also depictions of social events such as heading to the theatre or days out by the seaside.

In order to overcome the challenges faced by women within society at this time Cassatt would require other advantages, and those came in the form of her upbringing. She was born into a wealthy family which was able to offer her opportunities of life and culture that even most men would never have. She travelled frequently, encouraged by her parents, and took the time to learn several other European languages which would help her in later life.

Transition from Hobbyist to Professional Artist

Whilst in Europe for the first time she would study the great masters in a variety of different galleries and museums across the continent. At the stage of her mid teens she had decided to pursue art, but more so as a hobby than a career. She also became connected to the existing desire amongst educated young women of the need for equal rights and saw the art world as an opportunity to broaden her understanding of cultural and societal issues.

Cassatt returned to the US after studying the masters in Europe and considered giving up this passion because of the difficulty that she experienced in continuing within her native US. At that time there were not the leading art galleries that there are today and much of her education was from studying artworks up close in person, as many art schools would not consider taking women into their programmes. Thankfully she decided to return to Europe and slowly built momentum in a similar way to her male counterparts within the Impressionist movement.

Some of the artists who she had already come across would now become unofficial mentors and were happy to exhibit alongside her as he style became closer to their own. Cassatt was a strongly willed woman who disagreed with the way that things were done to get ahead within the art industry and was determined to achieve success through the quality of her paintings, rather than by knowing or networking with the right people.

Bust of Francoise Looking Down Mary Cassatt
Bust of Francoise Looking Down
Portrait of Mie Louise Durand Ruel Mary Cassatt
Portrait of Mie Louise Durand Ruel
Dorothy in a Very Large Bonnet and a Dark Coat Mary Cassatt
Dorothy in a Very Large Bonnet and a Dark Coat
Marie Therese Gaillard Mary Cassatt
Marie Therese Gaillard
Margot in White Mary Cassatt
Margot in White
Margot Mary Cassatt
Francoise in Green, Sewing Mary Cassatt
Francoise in Green, Sewing
Francoise Wearing a Big White Hat Mary Cassatt
Francoise Wearing a Big White Hat
Young Girls Mary Cassatt
Young Girls
Margot in Blue Mary Cassatt
Margot in Blue
Maternity Mary Cassatt
Mother and Sara Admiring the Baby Mary Cassatt
Mother and Sara Admiring the Baby
The Sisters Mary Cassatt
The Sisters
Feeding the Ducks Mary Cassatt
Feeding the Ducks
In the Box Mary Cassatt
In the Box
A Kiss for Baby Anne Mary Cassatt
A Kiss for Baby Anne
Woman Sewing Mary Cassatt
Woman Sewing
Sara Handing a Toy to the Baby Mary Cassatt
Sara Handing a Toy to the Baby
Elsie Cassatt Holding a Big Dog Mary Cassatt
Elsie Cassatt Holding a Big Dog
Woman at her Toilette Mary Cassatt
Woman at her Toilette
Young Mother and Two Children Mary Cassatt
Young Mother and Two Children
Young Thomas and his Mother Mary Cassatt
Young Thomas and his Mother
Young Girl Reading Mary Cassatt
Young Girl Reading
Young Woman Picking Fruit Mary Cassatt
Young Woman Picking Fruit
Study for Augusta Reading to her Daughter Mary Cassatt
Study for Augusta Reading to her Daughter
Ellen Mary Cassatt with a Large Bow in her Hair Mary Cassatt
Ellen Mary Cassatt with a Large Bow in her Hair
Young Boy in Blue Mary Cassatt
Young Boy in Blue
Young Girl at a Window Mary Cassatt
Young Girl at a Window
Margaret Milligan Sloan Mary Cassatt
Margaret Milligan Sloan
The Family Mary Cassatt
The Family
The Banjo Lesson Mary Cassatt
The Banjo Lesson