MARY CASSATT: A Life by Nancy Mowll Mathews

MARY CASSATT: A Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Brilliant, lively life of long-lived American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), by the editor of her selected letters and author of a monograph on her (neither reviewed here). Mathews's historical considerations of Cassatt, showing how the painter has fared with art critics and feminist writers through the decades since her entries were first accepted by the Paris Salon in 1872, reveal just how surreal public and critical understanding of a painter can be, with Cassatt seen in the guises of a half-dozen different roles -- from Victorian spinster to torch-bearing feminist -- and each rippling image seen as the real woman. Trained in Pennsylvania and the Paris atelier of Charles Chaplin, Cassatt made an early decision never to accept a marriage proposal, preferring the life of the artist to that of the wife; nor, apparently, did she ever enter into a lesbian tie, though these were not uncommon among French painters. Cassatt was early recognized for her forceful opinions and the intense intellectual stimulation of her company. She led a romantic, nomadic life in France until turning professional and taking up her own studio in Paris. She welcomed the invitation by Degas to join the Impressionists and, though she met few of the outstanding members of that group, enjoyed matching wits with the fast tongues of those she did meet. Cassatt gave up her earlier melancholy, yearning, and contemplative subject matter for the modern psychological depth of Degas and Manet. With the waning of the Impressionists a decade later, she came into her prime and brought an abstract originality to her sensuous compositions of mothers and children. Her taste influenced many major American art collections, though cataracts deprived her of sight during her final years. Quiet but uplifting.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0300077548
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Villard/Random House