MARY CASSATT is the biography of a woman who won lasting fame as an artist while most of her gender were confined to domestic pursuits. Perhaps, the author suggest, Mary Cassatt derived her spirit of independence and the capacity for hard work from her forebears, who came to the New World and made fortunes. When this young woman decided to be an artist, there was no stopping her.
Unfortunately, Mary Cassatt’s position in society made it extremely difficult for her to achieve her goals. Drawing lessons were acceptable, as was her attendance at the art academy in Philadelphia after the family had moved there. Cassatt’s father balked, however, when she wanted to study abroad, as every serious artist must do. Somehow, she got her way, and from the moment she entered Paris, Mary Cassatt does not seem ever to have looked back.
The biographer describes vividly how Cassatt joined the revolution against the art establishment and indicates how Cassatt’s own style developed, initially resembling that of her Impressionist friends and later being modified by classical influences. Mathews emphasizes the fact that however Cassatt’s works might change, her dedication to art remained unaltered. Even while she was playing hostess to friends and relatives, entertaining their children, nursing family members, or suffering from illness herself, Cassatt seemed driven to paint. She was not defeated until, in her final years, she lost her sight. MARY CASSATT is a thoroughly researched, well-balanced biography. Moreover, at a time when every failure seems to have it’s excuse, it serves as an inspiring reminder of what sheer determination can accomplish.