Mary Cassatt – Becomes his own wife and buys her own castle

Some time ago we started an exploration of two-dimensional artistic media and focused on the lesser-known medium of pastel. Currently, a look at a second famous female 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: pastel artists, including Da Vinci, continued into the Rococo era, after which the use of pastels faded until it was rediscovered by Degas and Whistler, two important impressionists, as well as today’s artist, Cassatt. .

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, we have covered his life through his early successes as a freelance American artist living in Europe in the 1870s through his growing frustration with the politics of the Paris Salon and until the early 1880s when ‘she joined the Impressionists, in part because of an invitation to participate in their 1878 exhibition, followed by work with Degas on an engraving journal. The two artists then worked intensely together on a Journal project that was never completed and although this intense collaboration did not continue, they remained friends for life.

Cassatt, Reflet 1890 etching with drypoint.

As previously mentioned, Degas introduced Cassatt to etching, of which he was a recognized master. The two had worked side by side for some time on their aborted printmaking journal, and his native drawing skills were learned under his tutelage. An example of Cassatt’s growing skill can be seen in his drypoint “Reflection”, dated 1889-1890, ten years after his first Impressionist exhibition. A recent study suggests that it was a self-portrait. Degas in turn represented Cassatt in a series of etchings relating their trips to the Louvre (Mary and Lydia Cassatt at the Louvre mentioned above). As a result of her collaboration with Degas, Cassatt became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, ultimately creating several of her most important works in this medium. Cassatt cherished Degas’ friendship, but learned not to expect too much from his wayward, temperamental nature after abruptly giving up on their mutual diary project.

Cassatt, Alexander J Cassatt and his son, Robert Kelso Cassatt.
Cassatt, Self-portrait 1878.
Degas, Mary Cassatt seated holding cards.

Degas and Cassatt both loved drawing figures and most of their works include people. Their works show a common interest in such elements as movement, light and design in a style that remains modern today. Cassatt posed for Degas informally in 1880, the result being an oil portrait, Mary Cassatt Sitting, Holding Cards. Cassatt herself made a “self-portrait” (mentioned in Part 20 as one of her successful entries in the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879) wearing an identical hat and dress, which suggested that there was sometimes joint painting sessions during the first years of their life. friendship. Cassatt also made several portraits of family members during this period, apart from one of Mrs. Cassatt reading LeFigaro which was also featured in the 1879 exhibit, there is an 1885 portrait of Alexander Cassatt and of his son Robert Kelso who is also much appreciated. By the late 1880s, Cassatt’s style had evolved from Impressionism to a simpler, more direct approach. She also began to exhibit her works in New York galleries. After 1886, Cassatt no longer identified with any artistic movement and experimented with various techniques.

In retrospect, the 1890s were Cassatt’s most active and creative times. The time she spent working with Degas as well as the 10 to 15 years she spent studying and working with the techniques, the plein air and the new perspective that the Impressionists brought, led to a style creative and light-hearted with an interest in human faces and the spirit behind them. Cassatt had matured considerably, becoming more diplomatic, softening her native candor as she spoke. At this time, she began to be solicited by young American artists who asked her for advice. So the wheel turned and the impressionable girl became a role model for the next generation. One of these young women was Lucy A. Bacon, whom Cassatt introduced to Camille Pissarro. Although the Impressionist group disbanded, Cassatt still had contact with some of the members, including Renoir, Monet and Pissarro.

Beaufresne Castle.

At the age of 50 (1894), Cassatt bought the Château de Beaufresne in a small town outside of Paris. The name of the Beaufresne house refers to the “Belle Frêne [trees]”that grow on the property. Cassatt and her family, including her siblings, visiting nieces and nephews, have lived there for over three decades. In fact, from the time of its purchase until her death in 1926 Cassatt spent her summers at Mesnil-Theribus, a country village north of Paris. Cassatt had rented in the nearby town of Bachivillers during the summers of 1891 and 1892 and she lost this rental when the owner decided to stop renting. rent. Cassatt loved the area and immediately decided to secure Chateau Beaufresne when it became available There is an interesting connection between the United States and Chateau de Beaufresne: it belonged to the descendants of Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse, one of the French rulers who participated in the War of Independence and winner of the Battle of Chesapeake Bay It was her family who sold the castle to Mary Cassatt.

Le Chateua de Beaufresne, rear view.

Cassatt spent her first summer at the castle making the necessary repairs and improvements, saying: “We are finally settled here and, even before we arrived, I was tired of my role as owner; I’ve given up almost three months of my time and know that I still have a part of the summer to devote to giving commissions, and I wonder when will I find the time to do some painting! Madame Aude [Durand-Ruel’s daughter and Cassatt’s neighbor in the Chaumont-en-Vexin area] knows the owners of Trie, would she be so kind as to tell them that I am putting the Mesnil-Beaufresne up for sale?

The house is very good, very healthy. I had water and [sic] put, in fact I cannot say that all is not going well, but I no longer want to give orders to the workers, who do not follow them anyway. . What I want is the freedom to work. My mom is no longer old enough or strong enough to take care of the outdoors and I don’t have the interest. My brothers will surely laugh at me, but I won’t say anything until I sell it and get my freedom back. It is definitely the best thing in the world. I’m completely fed up with the trouble I had to do a little work (Mary Cassatt to Paul Durand-Ruel, summer 1894).

Obviously, she didn’t follow through on her threat. Indeed, her niece used the property and employed a small staff to take care of it until she fell into despair and was donated to a local social service agency. Notice how the background of his painting of children playing with a dog is like the grounds of his castle and the window is like the solarium at the back of the house.

Next time take a look at his early pastels.

Cassatt, Children playing with a dog, 19 years old.

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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