Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt is best known for being one of the only women to succeed in a male-dominated art movement. The Philadelphia native began her career at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at the age of 16. In 1866, she left the United States for Paris where she was unable to study at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts because of her gender, so she instead studied privately under the school’s masters. Although her works were previously displayed in the Salon, Cassatt was eventually invited by Edgar Degas to display her pieces amongst the anti-Salon exhibitions put on by the Impressionists.
Aside from her historical signfigance as an artist, Cassatt’s work is also important due to its subject matter. At a time when art largely depicted the world and gaze of men, Mary Cassatt depicted both the domestic realm and the rejection of women as the spectacle. Her work explored motherhood and the mother-child relationship in a truly intimate and previously untouched way. Other works depicting women at the opera also challenge the male gaze by depicting women ignoring/rejecting the men watching them. Cassat’s work and subject matter were nothing short of revolutionary for the time. Her conscious rejection of popular themes and norms in art demonstrate a keen awareness of the sexism she faced in her career.
For additional reading on Cassatt and her art, try the following resources: