Mary Cassatt

A Cup of Tea
A Cup of Tea by Mary Cassat. Corbis/VCG via Getty Images / Getty Images

Born on May 22, 1844, Mary Cassatt was one of the very few women who were part of the French Impressionist movement in art, and the only American during the movement's productive years; she often painted women in ordinary tasks. Her help to Americans collecting Impressionist art helped bring that movement to America.

Biography of Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, in 1845. Mary Cassatt's family lived in France from 1851 to 1853 and in Germany from 1853 to 1855. When Mary Cassatt's oldest brother, Robbie, died, the family returned to Philadelphia.

She studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia in 1861 to 1865, which was among the few such schools open to female students. In 1866 Mary Cassatt began European travels, finally living in Paris, France.

In France, she took art lessons and spent her time studying and copying the paintings at the Louvre.

In 1870, Mary Cassatt returned to the United States and her parents' home. Her painting suffered from a lack of support from her father. Her paintings in a Chicago gallery were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Fortunately, in 1872 she received a commission from the archbishop in Parma to copy some Correggio works, which revived her flagging career. She went to Parma for the job, then after study in Antwerp Cassatt returned to France.

Mary Cassatt joined the Paris Salon, exhibiting with the group in 1872, 1873, and 1874.

She met and began studying with Edgar Degas, with whom she had a close friendship; they apparently did not become lovers. In 1877 Mary Cassatt joined the French Impressionist group and in 1879 began exhibiting with them at the invitation of Degas. Her paintings sold successfully. She herself began collecting the paintings of other French Impressionists, and she helped several friends from America acquire French Impressionist art for their collections. Among those she convinced to collect Impressionists was her brother, Alexander.

Mary Cassatt's parents and sister joined her in Paris in 1877; Mary had to do the housework when her mother and sister fell ill, and the volume of her painting suffered until her sister's death in 1882 and her mother's recovery soon after.

Mary Cassatt's most successful work was during the 1880s and 1890s. She moved from impressionism to her own style, significantly influenced by Japanese prints that she saw at an exhibition in 1890. Degas, upon seeings some of Mary Cassatt's later work, was said to have stated, "I am not willing to admit that a woman can draw that well."

Her work was frequently characterized by depictions of women in ordinary tasks, and especially with children. Though she never married or had children of her own, she enjoyed visits from her American nieces and nephews.

In 1893, Mary Cassatt submitted a mural design for display at the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The mural was taken down and lost at the end of the fair.

She continued to care for her ill mother until her mother's death in 1895.

After the 1890s, she did not keep up with some of the newer, more popular trends, and her popularity waned. She put more of her efforts into advising American collectors, including her brothers. Her brother Gardner died suddenly after Mary Cassatt returned with him and his family from 1910 trip to Egypt. Her diabetes began to create more serious health problems.

Mary Cassatt supported the women's suffrage movement, both morally and financially.

By 1912, Mary Cassatt had become partially blind. She gave up painting entirely in 1915, and had become totally blind by her death on June 14, 1926, in Mesnil-Beaufresne, France.

Mary Cassatt was close to several female painters including Berthe Morisot. In 1904, the French government awarded Mary Cassatt the Legion of Honor.

Background, Family

  • Father: Robert Simpson Cassatt (banker)
  • Mother: Katherine Johnston Cassatt
  • Siblings: five
    • Alexander was president of the Pennsyvlania Railroad


  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1861 - 1865
  • Studied under Chaplin in Paris (1866) and Carlo Raimondi in Parma (1872)


  • Judith A. Barter, editor. Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman. 1998.
  • Philip Brooks. Mary Cassatt: An American in Paris. 1995.
  • Julia M. H. Carson. Mary Cassatt. 1966.
  • Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, New York. 1984.
  • Nancy Mowll Mathews. Mary Cassatt: A Life. 1994.
  • Nancy Mowll Mathews. Cassatt: A Retrospective. 1996.
  • Griselda Pollock. Mary Cassatt: Painter of Modern Women. 1998
  • Frederick A. Sweet. Miss Mary Cassatt, Impressionist from Pennsylvania. 1966.
  • Forbes Watson. Mary Cassatt. 1932.
  • Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman. (Essays.) 1998.
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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Mary Cassatt." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Mary Cassatt. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Mary Cassatt." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).