Mary Cassatt was the only American artist to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris. Her signature subjects were portraits of women and portrayals of mothers and children caught in everyday moments. In both her style and her insightful evocations of women's inner lives, she was a distinctly modern artist of the late-19th century.
Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Allegheny City (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania in 1844. Here family traveled a great deal and she spent a substantial part of her childhood in France and Germany. Mary Cassatt studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1860 until 1862. After completing her studies, she went to France to continue her art education. In 1868, Cassatt’s painting "The Mandolin Player" (was accepted at the renowned Paris Salon.
Cassatt's work combined the light color palette and loose brushwork of Impressionism with compositions influenced by Japanese art as well as by European Old Masters, and she worked in a variety of media throughout her career. This versatility helped to establish her professional success at a time when very few women were regarded as serious artists.
Though she felt indebted to the Salon for building her career, Mary Cassatt began to feel increasingly constrained by its inflexible guidelines. No longer concerned with what was fashionable or commercial, she began to experiment artistically. Her new work drew criticism for its bright colors and unflattering accuracy of its subjects. During this time, she drew courage from painter Edgar Degas, whose pastels inspired her to press on in her own direction. "I used to go and flatten my nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art," she once wrote to a friend. "It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it."
Her admiration for Degas would soon blossom into a strong friendship, and Mary Cassatt exhibited 11 of her paintings with the Impressionists in 1879. The show was a huge success both commercially and critically, and similar exhibits were staged in 1880 and 1881. Shortly thereafter marked a dormant period for Mary Cassatt, who was forced to withdraw from the art world to care for her ill mother and sister. Her sister died in 1882, but after her mother regained her health, Mary was able to resume painting.