Paintings by Mary Cassatt

With Mary Cassatt Painting In Paris, pictures like The Boating Party, while colorful and warm, are a paradox.

Mary Cassatt Painting In Paris
Nurse and Child, painting by Mary Cassatt

Blue water and bright yellow of the boat’s interior match an ornament on the main figure’s hat. The painting is eye-catching with little precise detail. It seems almost designed for color fields that play well together.

It’s easy to accept as another impressionist masterpiece of evanescent color and design. Until you stay long enough to look at the figures.

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All seem distanced from the others. Even the baby in the woman’s lap is looking aside while the mother stares pensively, even apprehensively, in direction of the muscular rower. The rower seems to look deliberately away.

Such are the pitfalls when Mary Cassatt’s paintings are taken lightly. The painting’s title The Boating Party tells us that the people are who we should be looking at, but they are an open book that can’t be read, a mystery.

Mary Cassatt Painting In Paris, An Early Masterpiece

Another interesting look is Little Girl In A Blue Armchair.

A year after  her paintings rejection by the conservative salon, Cassatt produced one of the oddest pictures of child’s frustration imaginable at the time.

Even the little girl’s dog looks bored. The child slumps so severely her dress has hikedup to her waist. She obviously doesn’t care.

This painting is important because it can easily be seen as a reflection on Cassatt’s own childhood.

Her family’s wealth was considerable, but she had to overcome objections, especially by her father. She insisted on becoming a painter. He was willing to pay for her upkeep but not her art supplies.

Did her frustration with the male dominated salon resurrect memories represented in the unforgettable painting?

(By the way, it’s rumored that Cassatt’s friend and mentor, Degas, painted the backgrounds in the picture.)

A Brief Biographical Look At Mary Cassatt’s Paintings

Mary Cassatt never married or had children, yet her paintings of children and motherhood are sensitive and loving.

Mary Cassatt Painting In Paris

When it comes to motherhood, it’s almost as if romanticism denied her a critical eye. In Breakfast In Bed, we see an idealized family situation. Mother and daughter pass a morning indulging in each other’s company.

Apart from heartfelt paintings of her sister, Lydia, with whom she was close, few of Cassatt’s paintings show anything more stressful than uncertainty.

This passionate painter did not make pictures of women of equal external achievement. Her stars are all mothers and playful little girls, the bored little girl in the chair with her dog notwithstanding.

But Mary Cassatt was spiritually invested in the suffrage movement. She remained active with it until her death. She added arguments and arts to the cause, even after she was too blind to continue work as a painter.

Still you never see women politically empowered in her work. Her paintings are of what we now call “stay at home moms,” which virtually all of them were in her circle, except Mary herself.

For Mary Cassatt, a Move Away from Painting in Paris

The oddest paradox of Cassatt’s life came when this rebel from the 1870s went establishment in the new century. She turned hostile to the art movements that were overtaking impressionism as forces, including post impressionism, fauvism and cubism.

In 1904, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor, although recognition in America never reached that peak.

One great legacy she left her home country was the Havemeyer Collection of paintings she helped her friend, Louise Havemeyer, collect. Havemeyer was a member of a wealthy and politically prominent New York family, and the heart of this collection, representing an insider’s view of the Impressionist Movement, was later donated to Metropolitan Museum

The greatness of Mary Cassatt’s painting lives on, but it’s likely that few visitors strolling lovingly passed them in the National Gallery or in the Met are aware of the struggle this personally powerful woman took on to produce such gentle and beautiful work.

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