Art media

Thoughts on various artistic mediums, why use pastel, part 18

Mary Cassatt-The Early Years

Some time ago we began an exploration of two-dimensional art mediums – oil, acrylic, watercolor, and a lengthy study of lesser-known pastel mediums. Now, moving forward after reviewing the major moments in the use of these special media through the latter part of the 19th century, we explore a second famous pastellist – Mary Cassatt (Rosalba Carriera of Venice has already been discussed at length.) . The origins of pastels can be traced back to northern Italy during the Renaissance: to date we have reviewed pastellist artists of the Renaissance and Mannerism, including Da Vinci, continuing into the Rococo, after which its use has grown. is blurred until its rediscovery by Degas and Whistler, two important impressionists, with the artist of today, Mary Cassatt.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) was born in Alleghany City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh) and lived most of her adult life in France where she became one of the main female members of the movement. impressionist and a close friend of Edgar Degas. Mary was the daughter of an upper middle class stock broker and land speculator, Robert Simpson Cassatt. Her father’s ancestry dates back to the French Huguenot emigrants to New Amsterdam, now New York, in 1662. Mary’s mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came to the well-educated and educated union of a family of bankers. The example of her mother had a profound influence on Mary.

In the mid-1800s, upper-middle-class families began to value their daughters’ education – realistically, to make sure they got married. Thus, Mary Cassatt was introduced to Europe and its varied cultures from an early age. As a child and pre-teen, Mary spent five years in Europe, traveling through its capitals, learning German and French, studying drawing and music. The Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855 was most likely the place where the young Cassatt (at the impressionable age of 11) first encountered artists such as Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Courbet and the first works. by Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, both important. to her later in life.

Cassatt began serious art studies at the age of 15, despite family concerns, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Located in Philadelphia, the school was founded in 1805 and is the first and oldest art museum and art school in the United States. Coincidentally, this was a great place to study a young woman, as the museum board announced in the year of Mary’s birth that female artists “would have exclusive use of the statues gallery for professional purposes.” . […and study time in the museum on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings]. In 1860, a year before Mary began her studies, female students were allowed to take anatomy and antiques classes, use of the library and galleries, life classes, and by the 1870s, teaching included female and male nude models. Indeed, the very period Cassatt studied (1861-1865) was the start of a period of rapid growth in trained female artists (not just tinkering with watercolor as part of a well-finished young woman). Cassatt, her college friends and fellow students have become longtime feminists believing in equal rights for women – an amendment the United States has still failed to pass.

Cassatt studied during the Civil War. It is noteworthy that one of his comrades, Thomas Eakins, became one of the most important American artists who was both an art professor and the controversial director of the Academy of Pennsylvania (which proves that the Sex scandals in education settings are not unique to any century, although in her case it appears to have revolved around nude male models offered to female artists – a standard in 20th century college art programs. ).

Mary eventually grew weary of both the Academy’s teaching method, which was too slow for her intense needs, and the condescending attitude of her male students and instructors. Instead, she chose to study the Old Masters on her own, because as she later remarked, “There was no teaching” [at the Academy]. Remember, the use of live models for female students did not begin until the 1870s, instead female art students limited themselves to drawing from plaster of Paris casts of anatomical pieces. So, at 22, Cassatt, frustrated, left the Academy without graduating and moved to Paris in 1866 after overcoming her father’s reluctance and bringing her mother as chaperone and family friends.

In Paris, the main art school, the École des Beaux-Arts, did not yet accept women. Mary therefore studied privately with Jean-Léon Gérôme, a renowned instructor whose style was hyperrealistic and included exotic subjects. His landmark work, “L’Emenice grise,” shows an important advisor to Cardinal de Richlieu descending a staircase with his nose in a book while courtiers bow (this was prominently in the MFA rotunda for decades. and one of my favorite books when visiting). Eakins joined Gérôme’s tutelage shortly after Cassatt.

Gérôme, Éminence Grise, 1873 MFA.

Beyond her teaching with Gérôme, Mary continued her exploration of the Old Masters at the Louvre, once she obtained the necessary copying permit (copyists generally sold their works for a living). Cassatt probably did it for the experience, but her stay at the Louvre also fostered her connections with other French artists and thinkers. At that time, American female students were not allowed to enter local cafes with their fellow art students and other innovative philosophers.

Chaplin, Girl in the Nest.

During her first year in Paris, Cassatt also joined a class taught by French artist and printmaker, Charles Chaplin. Interestingly, his mediums included pastel, lithography, watercolor, chalk, oil, and printmaking. The famous genre painter was an accomplished portrait painter who undoubtedly had an influence on Cassatt’s mediums and style. Two years later, Mary studied with another accomplished Parisian painter, Thomas Couture. Couture’s technique was academic, as were its subjects, mainly history and genre paintings. However, he also took his students to the countryside where they worked on the spot (outdoors), often focusing on peasant life.

outure, lawyer goes to court.
Cassatt, A Mandolin Player, 1868.

By the time Cassatt studied with Couture, he had moved beyond Academy traditionalism. His workshop included Edouard Manet, so Couture was yet another influential instructor. In 1868, Cassatt’s painting, A Mandolin Player, a work in the romantic style of Corot and Couture, was selected at the Paris Salon. Mary Cassatt and Elizabeth Jane Gardner were the first two American women to exhibit at the Salon. His mandolin work is one of two extant works from his first decade as an artist.

Next time, Mary Cassatt returns briefly to the United States during the Franco-Prussian War. Many Parisian artists fled abroad at this time.

Janet Cornacchio is a member of the Front Street Art Gallery, president of the Scituate Arts Association and a real estate agent. You can contact her at [email protected]