The United States has produced very few renowned woman artists, but Mary Cassatt ranks among America's most important painters. American Painter in Paris: A Life of Mary Cassatt deals primarily with Cassatt as a person: her ambitions, her emotions, and, of course, her art. Wilson limits herself to describing the works of Cassatt and others in a general, rather than technical, way. For instance, she writes of Edgar Degas, "the artist apparently thought it more important to have his models look real rather than pretty," and of a Claude Monet painting, "it shone with disturbing brilliance." Such generality makes the biography readily accessible to readers with a strong interest in art but little technical knowledge. Unfortunately, only one of the paintings is reproduced in color.
Mary Cassatt's life as a member of an affluent eastern family in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century adds an element of social history to the biography. Following Cassatt's life in the U.S. and France, Wilson vividly depicts the effects of the Civil War, the Franco- Prussian War, and World War I.