Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. She was an American painter and printmaker and lived much of her adult life in France, where she later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt (pronounced ca-SAHT) often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.
She was born into favorable circumstances: her father, Robert S. Cassatt, was a successful stockbroker, and her mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. Cassatt grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education; before she was ten years old she had already visited many of the capitals of Europe, including London, Paris, and Berlin.
She began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1861-1865). She was impatient with the slow pace of instruction and the patronizing attitude of the male students and teachers. She decided to study the old masters on her own, and in 1866 she moved to Europe where she lived with her mother from 1851 until 1858, studying in a number of cities including Paris, Parma, and Seville.
Cassatt attracted the attention of Edgar Degas, who invited her to join the artists dedicated to the "new painting", the Impressionists. From 1879 to 1886 she was one of only three women to exhibit with the Impressionists, and the only American woman.
Cassatt had her own subject matter, using her family members as models. Cassatt was a sensitive painter of women and the occasional male subject. She achieved her greatest success in the depiction of maternity.
Shortly after her triumphs with the Impressionists, Cassatt's style evolved, and she moved away from impressionism to a simpler, more straightforward approach. By 1886, she no longer identified herself with any art movement and experimented with a variety of techniques. A series of rigorously drawn, tenderly observed, yet largely unsentimental paintings on the mother and child theme form the basis of her popular work. In 1891, she exhibited a series of highly original colored lithograph prints, including Woman Bathing and The Coiffure, inspired by the Japanese masters shown in Paris the year before.
The 1890s were Cassatt's busiest and most creative time. She also became a role model for young American artists such as Lucy A. Bacon. As the new century arrived, she served as an advisor to several major art collectors and stipulated that they eventually donate their purchases to American art museums.
Upon her death in 1926, Cassatt was honored by a number of memorial exhibitions, and remains one of the most acclaimed American-born artists.