An American painter and printmaker born in 1845 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, Mary Cassatt spent five years as a child in Paris. After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1865–1866) she returned to paint in Italy. She exhibited with the Impressionists between 1877–1886. Cassatt admired Realist Courbet and the Impressionist Manet but was mainly influenced by her friend Degas, who also represented her in his own compositions.
After the final Impressionist exhibition of 1886, Cassatt began to experiment more widely, transforming her imagery with references to Old Master Madonna and Child paintings as well as Japanese woodcut prints. Her experiments with printmaking at this time resulted in one of the great graphic monuments of the nineteenth century, her set of ten color prints first shown at Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1891. Gradually she abandoned Impressionist work for paintings that emphasized shapes and forms. She did a series of color prints that combined drypoint and aquatint etching by studying Japanese woodblock techniques. From 1890, she had her own printing press at her home.
As a wealthy expatriate, she had means to devote herself to her art and used her domestic life as her subject matter. She painted fashionable women who were conversing, having tea, and at outings with friends and their children. Her pictures are characterized by spontaneity and freshness of vision, which prevails in the asymmetrical and unposed figures of her oil paintings. Her drawings and prints show a personal mastery of linearism and perspective that owed much to Degas and Eastern art.
Upon her death in 1926, Cassatt was honored by a number of memorial exhibitions and remains one of the most acclaimed American-born artists. She is still the subject of major exhibitions, such as “Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman,” which opened at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. A traveling exhibition, it included 100 of the most beautiful of her works, the first traveling retrospective of her work in 30 years.