Mar 26th, 2018, 10:59 PM

Mary Cassatt: The Original Expatriate

By Nora Cramer
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Everett
This spring's must-see exhibit: "Mary Cassatt, une impressionniste américaine à Paris."

When most people think of famous expatriates who came to Paris, they imagine the lost generation of the roaring twenties, maybe conjuring images of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. However, Mary Cassatt, an American who lived in Paris for nearly 60 years in the late 19th century and early 20th century was the only American who showed her work with the impressionist group, including Degas and Monet, in Paris. The remarkable collection at Musée Jacquemart-André showcases her ability to represent women in a way that no other artist, including other impressionists, were doing at the time.

Cassatt moved to Paris in 1866 to be tutored privately by teachers from École des Beaux-Arts because she felt that women were not taken seriously as students at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia where she had been previously studying. Cassatt entered her paintings to the Salon of Paris, which began as the official art exhibit of  École des Beaux-Art, between the years 1868 to 1877. When none of her work was excepted in 1877, she was invited to show her work with the impressionists who had begun their own showcases. Cassatt, who was an outspoken critique of the salon and an admired Degas' work, eagerly joined the group. In 1915 Cassatt was quoted saying, "La première fois que j'ai vu des tableaux de Degas, cela a été le tournant de ma vie artistique," which can be translated to "The first time I saw Degas' paintings, it was the turning point in my artistic life," proving how influential the impressionists were on her work. The exhibition is currently being held at Musée Jacquemart-André until July 23, 2018, and is the first retrospective in France to be held on her since her death in 1926. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Everett Art

This exhibition, which is comprised of almost 50 pieces loaned from different museums around the world, contains both famous and less well-known works. The museum divided this showcase into eight rooms each with a different theme. Some of the themes include portraits of her family, mothers and their children, and modern women. One of the things that Cassatt is best known for is her progressive feminist beliefs, particularly about female empowerment and the relationship between mothers and children. Cassatt depicted women as strong and intelligent individuals who existed outside of their relationships with men and thrived in the presence of other women. Cassatt also believed that women were the most capable of showcasing other women's accomplishments. This is present in her mother and child pieces which are renowned for their naturalness. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Everett Art 

After 1886, Cassatt moved away from the impressionist group and her style digressed into a simpler appearance. She explored with different mediums but continued to use light pastel colors and avoided black, staying true to her impressionist influences. This exhibit is a clear portrayal of Cassatt's experimentation with new techniques as a leader in modernism while still remaining true to her interests and artistic ascetic. Some of her famous works like Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, and Woman bathing, 1890-1891, which I normally would never get to see were on display, as well as works that I discovered for the first time like The Fitting, 1890-1891.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Everett Historical 

Since this exhibition is relatively new it is still crowded even on weekdays. I recommend waiting to visit or going during the museum's slowest hours, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 5 p.m to 6 p.m. in the evening. It is possible to buy your ticket online to skip the ticket line, but you will have to choose your arrival date and time so if you choose to do this make sure you'll be on time. If you're a student don't forget to buy the reduced price ticket and have a valid I.D. to prove your date of birth. Inside each room of the exhibition, there is an explanation of the theme, in French only. If you're not confident in your French, make sure to collect a free translated pamphlet when buying your ticket. There is little information provided on the pieces, in any language, so if the background of the works interests you consider getting an audio guide (in French or English) for an additional €3.