I have touched with a sense of art some people – they felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist? (Mary Cassatt)
The Sisters (1885)
Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926) was born in America, but spent most of her adult life in France. She stood out as a successful female artist when it was still very much a male reserve. Her influence from the impressionists is clear and in particular that of Degas with whom she shared a friendship.
When I came across her paintings for the first I was struck by her images of people, especially, children. Her portraits were not formal, but captured everyday relaxed scenes. People were doing normal family activities. Mothers with children, family moments in the garden or indoors. There is sense of familiarity and vulnerability that only an artist with deep feeling and skill can convey. All this was achieved with a fresh and loose technique, which to me is so much more expressive than the classical realism or modern realist movement.
Portrait of a Lady Reading
Cassatt worked in oils, pastel and watercolour. Much of her work aimed to capture a moment of life - snapshots really. Many studies were done quickly and have a spontaneous quality that keeps them fresh to this day.
One forgets that for a female artist in the late 1800's formal art lessons were not freely available and the night life in Paris was unseemly for a lady. Male artists could get away with painting all walks of life while Cassatt had to look for subjects that were safer. One of these was the intimacy of home life. She was able to give a dignity and empathy to women like no other at the time. Cassatt was also influenced by Japanese art, as were other impressionists, which is apparent in The Boating Party.
Impressionism not only gave freedom to choose new subjects and techniques, but also opportunity for female artists like Cassatt to take their place as masters of art.