Child in a Straw Hat by Mary Cassatt
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 

"I used to go and flatten my nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art. " 

That is what the artist Mary Cassatt said once. In all the practical purposes when she said 'his art' she meant the creator, the God himself. From these words, we can imagine how she was feeling about nature and its limitless beauty. The beauty that she wanted to paint; the beauty she had transported to her canvases. Here we will take a short tour of her prolific art.

Paris is a cultural treasure where artists from all over the world have come to draw some valuables. It has become a destination for the artists for many reasons: they came here to hunt some treasure; they came here to be famous, and they came here to starve and subsequently becoming famous artist. Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926) followed the same route. However, here the case was different from the other migratory birds: the Lady had carried good luck with her when she arrived in Paris.

Mary was born American and settled in Paris;  she was relatively a late entrant in the pool of the impressionist painters. She educated herself by seeing the works of other artists. Her travelling to the centres where the rare artworks were stored acquainted her with the trend of contemporary arts in Paris. She was one of the rare artists who had travelled to many European centres where paintings of old masters were available to see and study. She visited the museums situated in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Holland. 

Children on the Beach Mary Cassatt
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Choice of the Subjects:  Cassatt depicted images of the social and private lives of women in her paintings. She highlighted the incidents wherein the intimate bonds between mothers and children were clearly visible. It was the time when women were not permitted to paint the other women. Even sitting with a man was not considered desirable for a woman, unless the man was her relative. Under such circumstances, the subjects for painting for a woman-artist like Marry Cassatt were bound to be limited. But here was a woman who broke the ceiling of the glass and proved herself as a superb artist.

Painting With Charm:   Mary had adopted masculine methods of painting. We can see the vigorous skill she had applied. The neatness of her contemporary artists like Ingress and Corot is visible in her compositions. Above all, the delicate and gentle feminine charm was present strongly at every inch of her canvases. Look at the above painting wherein a girl child is shown wearing a straw hat. The use of subdued colours had made the entire piece of art so powerfully communicating.

Mary Cassatt used to paint indoor. She mainly painted the domestic scenes by and large showing the mothers and children, or the nurses caring for the child. These were her favourite forms. In Mary Cassatt's paintings, women were also depicted doing domestic works like reading, sewing, and attending children. However, as an artist, she had not got enough recognition she deserved. She had become a victim of the 'gendering of visual art', perhaps. 

In her adopted home in Paris, Mary's work had suffered from the point of recognition for two reasons: one she was a woman artist; and two, she was an American living in Paris. But her artistic prowess was the lamp that lighted her career. It was to her credit that on seeing her work Edgar Degas had remarked thus: ‘There is someone who feels as I do’.

Young Mother Sewing Mary Cassatt
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City,

Mary Cassatt's paintings done in the initial spell were displaying a specific trend. In her initial works, we can see the precise influence of Spanish art and the work of other great painters like Manet. About the colours she used, she kept her palette loaded with bright colours. Her palette would be full of blues, greens and reds. Yellows she used excellently.

Look at the painting Young Mother Sewing given here. It is believed to be painted in the year 1900. The salient feature of this painting is the depiction of the affection of a mother to her child. Mary was one of the rare artists who had travelled most of the European cities. She went there to see the paintings of old masters; she went there to observe how these artists recreated the world in their surround. She had done a deep study of these paintings. 

She had many memorable portraits to her credit. Her portrait paintings had one peculiarity. She used to paint portraits, occupying a larger portion of the canvas. Big canvasses provided her with the more comprehensive freedom of expression she wanted to enjoy.

Mary Cassatt Painting Women With Grace and Beauty:  The painting in general and the paintings of the women models, in particular, had remained the ‘bastion of male painters’ for a long time. It had kept the art gender-specific profession. It had also made the art of figurative painting more or less male-oriented. Paintings were done as seen from the male perspective, exclusively. Mary Cassatt was to carve out her space in such type of field. However, the scenario is changed a little bit now. If the paintings done by some of the modern women painters are any evidence, the story is taking a decisive turn. The women painters like Mary Cassatt were the pioneers of the trend, perhaps.

Change in Perspective:   In this connection, the researches, and psychological writings by Sigmund Freud, have done great help. After Sigmund Freud taught us new ideas about human psychology, the art world also has undergone a change. The women painters, too, are now entering the field of figurative paintings. Their works have become acceptable among people. Accordingly, the mindset applied while painting women has changed considerably. The clan of women artists of the bygone century had proved itself more secured and enjoying greater freedom of expression.

Change in Mindset of Artists:   With more women painters entering the field of figurative painting, this art has gone through a substantial change. The female figures painted by women artists look like an honest subject of the paintings. A woman artist also would paint keeping the women models before their canvases. But there would be a wide valley of difference in her painting them, so far as the basic attitude of judging a female figure is concerned.

After getting a firm hold on her brush, Mary Cassatt had preferred the artistic use of line over the mass of the colours. She was always open to new experiments. While seeing such paintings done by a woman artist, a viewer with artistic eyes would not find that these paintings are painted only as an object for looking at. Women artists choose women as subjects of their artistic depiction and they remain faithful to the main road of the art without going on to the sub-lanes. While painting her models, a woman artist honours the woman figure by painting all the delicacies and beauties it possesses. 

Berthe Morisot 
-by Édouard Manet 
Musee d'Orsay, Paris


“I don't think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that's all I would have asked for, for I know I'm worth as much as they.That is what the French woman artist Berthe Morisot said.

Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895) was a French Painter. She had executed several beautiful paintings in the impressionist style. Though Berthe was among the first lot of impressionists, her paintings are undervalued. It is because of the marginalization of women artists in the field of visual art, perhaps. She was a model and sister-in-law of Eduardo Manet who painted several portraits keeping her as a model. The above portrait of Berthe Morisot is done by the master artist Eduardo Manet.

The Period:    Berthe Morisot was among two painters who had succeeded in displaying their paintings as the original impressionist artist; another artist was Camille Pissaro. Like her another contemporary, Marry Cassatt, Berth had preferred painting children, woman and the domestic scenes of life. If we look at her diary Growingup with the Impressionists we can have insight into the life of great painters of her time. She had narrated her experiences with artists like Degas, Sisley, and Monet. However, Renoir and Manet. They were valuable for her life and her art.

The Art:    Berth had painted several canvases depicting women. When a woman is painted in an at-ease posture, the state of her figure indicates rest and comfort. Along with this, it also reflects the defencelessness of a person. 

Girl with Greyhound
Berthe Morisot

Look at the painting Girl with Greyhound. To narrate the beauty of a woman through visualizing the same, here Berth Morisot has painted a woman. The bold brushstrokes are the symbol of strength and a sense of immediacy. All the paintings of the impressionist style would possess such characteristics. In this painting, if the bold brush strokes are any evidence, then Berth was highly influenced by her brother-in-law artist Eduardo Manet. But the style of sitting of the woman is perfectly gentle. Her feel is modest, as she seems feeling at home. Even the pat dog looks an important part of the home and not an outsider.

By using a light palate, Berth had painted scenes of daily life. About her art, Berth had very humble views: she would say that " I always say that I'm an artist who works with pictures and words, so I think that the different aspects of my activity, whether it's writing criticism, or doing visual work that incorporates writing, or teaching, or curating, is all of a single fabric and I don't make any separation in terms of those practices".


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