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Mary Cassatt Paintings

Cassatt was determined to make a career from her art. She began her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts but soon grew weary of the slow pace of instruction. Though her father greatly objected she moved to Paris where she was given instruction by Jean-Leon Gerome, Charles Chaplin and Thomas Coutre. During these early years Cassatt learned, and continued to, paint in the traditional methods though her work was frequently rejected by the Salon.

During a low point in her career, Cassatt befriended Degas who invited her to take part in the independent exhibition of the Impressionists. This group made an incredible impression on her painting style as well as her subject matter. She turned from paintings of costume genre to scenes of contemporary life in pictural quality which showed more spontaneity. Before working with the Impressionists she had worked primarily in a studio but now she began carrying a sketchpad to record scenes she saw while out about town gaining a greater sense of observation.

Cassatt painted mostly women engaged in daily social and private activities; walking around Paris, reading a book, writing letters. In the 1880s Cassatt began work with her characteristic theme, mothers and children. She seemed to stick with the theme in order to master a variety of techniques in the process.

She was skillful in her use of oils and used this medium predominantly in her early works. Her works showed gentle, golden lighting. She admired Degas’ use of pastels and became proficient in it herself, not imitating his style but creating one of her own. By the 1890’s her medium use changed to predominantly pastels and printmaking. Her forms became more solid, with clearer colors and more firm and boldly outlined.

During her fifties Cassatt’s eyesight began to fail and she nearly stopped working altogether.