(The painting above is an excerpt from a self-portrait which you can see in full on this Wikipedia page.)
Born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh), Mary Cassatt was fortunate to live at a time when travel was valued as integral to a good education. As a child, she spent five years in Europe, where she received her first lessons in drawing, music, and other arts.
Her first exposure to French impressionist artists was likely at the Paris World's Fair of 1855, where she would have seen works of Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, who later became her mentors and then colleagues. At age 15, when she began studying art in earnest, only 20 percent of art students were women. By following her passion, she helped to blaze the way for women artists.
Cassatt's studies with art tutors in Paris were cut short by the Franco-Prussian War, forcing her to return to the United States in 1870. Deeply unhappy and unable to find buyers for her work, she almost gave up painting. Propitiously, the Archibishop of Pittsburgh, an admirer of her paintings, gave her the funds to return to Europe. From the age of 30, Cassatt lived and worked in France, where her gifts were more widely appreciated than they had been in the United States. She received the French Legion of Honor in 1906.
To Name this Day:
To celebrate Cassatt's birthday, reflect on this quote of hers about what it means to be "in the flow" artistically:
"After a time, you get keyed up and it 'goes', you paint quickly and do more in a few weeks than in the preceding weary months. When I am en train, nothing can stop me and it seems easy to paint, but I know very well it is the result of my previous efforts."
Mary Cassatt gives us wonderful examples of the spiritual practice of nurturing. As you look at her paintings, come up with examples from your own life of how you have cared for yourself and others. The value of making such a personal inventory is recommended in many spiritual traditions. Start with these works by Cassatt. In Woman Reading in a Garden, a woman sits totally caught up in her study even though she is surrounded by beautiful flowers. In The Garden, an older woman is doing needlework; her sad yet clearly focused eyes convey that this hobby is a source of solace to her. Cassatt's engaging portraits of women caring for children — such as The Child's Bath and Mother Combing Her Child's Hair — demonstrate her keen observation skills and her ability to capture tender strength.
Visit MaryCassatt.org for a searchable gallery of these and other paintings.
Watch this video of many of Mary Cassatt's paintings and prints, set to the music of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, II. Larghetto.