Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In American Painter in Paris: A Life of Mary Cassatt, Ellen Wilson creates not only a biography but also an art history text of the Impressionist era in France. The book traces the life of painter Cassatt from the age of sixteen to her death. In the course of documenting her life, Wilson also gives an insider’s account of the unfolding drama connected with the Impressionist period of art in France. The young adult reader learns of the camaraderie among artists during this period and also discovers the political and social struggles with which even a talented student had to cope in order to be noticed in the art world. Of the twenty-three chapters, the first and second deal with the preparation of Cassatt for her European education, chapters 3 through 20 outline her career, and chapters 21 through 23 describe her final years.

As an important part of her biography, Wilson describes Cassatt’s absorption in painting, especially when she finally persuaded her family to allow her to study in Paris. Aside from her lessons, she spent hours in the Louvre copying the old masters and “learning to see.” Interrupted in her studies by the Franco-Prussian War, she had to return home to Philadelphia. During this time, she developed an even stronger conviction that Paris was the place where she must study. Although she was not able to return to France immediately, she did return to Europe; this time, she sailed to Italy and subsequently traveled to Spain...

(The entire section is 465 words.)