Mary Cassatt-Becoming a Freelance Artist

Some time ago we began an exploration of two-dimensional artistic mediums – oil, acrylic, watercolor, and a lengthy study of lesser-known pastel mediums. Now, to go ahead and explore a second famous pastellist – Mary Cassatt (Rosalba Carriera of Venice which has already been discussed at length was the first.) The origins of pastels go back to northern Italy during the Renaissance: to this day we reviewed the Renaissance and Mannerist pastellists, including Da Vinci, continued into the Rococo era, after which its use faded until its rediscovery by Degas and Whistler, two important impressionists, as well. as today’s artist, Cassatt, whose story began in the last article.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) was born in Alleghany City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh) and lived most of her adult life in France where she became one of the main female members of the movement. impressionist and a close friend of Edgar Degas. To this day, his life through his early training in France has been explored.

Mary Cassatt, like many artists, French and ex-Pats, fled Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, an attempt by the Confederation of North Germany and the Second French Empire under Napoleon III to gain control from continental Europe. The war brought about the end of the Second Empire (French), the rise of the Third French Republic with France ultimately losing, paying compensation to Germany as well as ceding most of Alsace and parts to them. of Lorraine. Germany’s success under Bismarck and King William I united other parts of the German nation-states under one banner. The loss of Alsace-Lorraine and the rise of a united German nation was a major factor in WWI. So, in the late summer of 1870, Mary reluctantly returned home to Philadelphia.

Her return to the United States meant that Cassatt was once again living with her family in Altoona, which understood the traditional stresses most young women faced. Her time at the Academy of Philadelphia and in Paris had given birth to a fairly independent young woman. She was forced to face her father’s relentless attempts to discourage her vocation, her desire to create art. He agreed to pay for his basic needs, but did not support his art. In an effort to raise funds, Cassatt tried to sell two of her works in a New York gallery and as so many artists are discovering, she had many admiring visitors but no buyers. She was even more disheartened by the lack of stimulating artwork to study in Altoona. At one point, frustrated, Cassatt wrote in a letter from July 1871:

“I gave up my studio and tore up my dad’s portrait and haven’t touched a paintbrush for six weeks and never will until I see a prospect of returning to Europe. can’t wait to get out west next fall and get a job, but haven’t decided where yet. Cassatt made another attempt to raise travel funds and some independence when she moved to traveled to Chicago to sell her works, but instead lost some of her early paintings in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 in October.

The escape finally took place when the Archbishop of Pittsburg took note of his work and gave him a commission that included travel expenses as well as funds for board and lodging. Cassatt was soon able to leave for Europe with fellow artist Emily Sartain, a member of another mainline family in Philadelphia. An excited Cassatt remarked: “How crazy I am to get down to work, my fingers are itching and my eyes are crying to see a beautiful picture again.” The two young women traveled to Parma, Italy, where Marie was to fulfill her order to make copies of two works from Correggio.

Upon arrival in Parma, the two young women found that they were being treated as underage celebrities by the Parma Academy of Fine Arts. Cassatt, in particular, was offered a vacant studio to do her copy work as well as work on her piece for submission to the Paris Salon of 1872. And to Cassatt’s surprise and to the chagrin of her companion Sartain, the professors (especially Carol Raimondi, head of the printmaking department who served as her advisor) and students passed by Mary’s studio to watch her work while local high society and royalty stopped to issue invitations to various events. Cassatt continued to work on his two copies of the Correggio and his entry into the Salon. The two women stayed in Parma during the carnival season. It was a time when young women would perch on the balconies of city streets and throw flowers at the young gentlemen walking below as a sign of their interest, a common activity not only in Parma but also in Rome and Paris. Cassatt chose this as the subject of her Salon. It was noted that there is an understandable similarity between her work and the master she copied. The inclination of the ladies’ heads and the dark background recall the works of the late Renaissance and the mannerism that surrounded it, in particular that of Correggio. Her work of “throwing flowers” is characteristic of her early works when Cassatt followed the canons of more traditional styles and worked in oils and not pastels which she favored later.

Cassatt two women throwing flowers during the carnival.
Correggio Madonna And Child with Sts Jérôme and Marie-Madeleine by day

In the spring of 1872, Cassatt finally reaped the rewards of her hard work and training. Her painting Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival was well received at the 1872 Salon and even sold. It remains in a private collection to this day. After completing her commission for the Archbishop, Cassatt traveled to Madrid and Seville, where she focused on the works of Velazquez and painted a group of paintings of Spanish subjects, including Spanish Dancer Wearing a Lace Mantilla (now in the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). She continued her exploration of the continent with stops in Belgium and Holland where she continued her study of the old masters, notably Rubens and Hals.

Cassatt Spanish dancer wearing a lace mantilla.

In 1874, Cassatt returned to France where she was joined by her sister Lydia. The two sisters share an apartment and Cassatt opens a studio in Paris. Another expatriate artist, Abigail May Alcott, sister of Louisa May Alcott, was an art student in Paris and was visiting there. In 1875, Cassatt became frustrated with the Salon policy. She realized that the works of female artists were often rejected by jurors, unless the presenter had contact among jurors, and she was also not the type to flirt towards the jury. success. The final proof came when a rejected work was accepted for resubmission the following year with a dark background in a conventional manner. Next time, Mary Cassatt is part of the Impressionist movement.

Janet Cornacchio is a member of the Front Street Art Gallery, president of the Scituate Arts Association and real estate agent. You can contact her at [email protected]

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