Magazine article Insight on the News

Mary Cassatt's Feminist Vision

Magazine article Insight on the News

Mary Cassatt's Feminist Vision

Article excerpt

The label "feminist painter" has destroyed many female artists. At best, it is misleading, especially when applied to the 19th-century American expatriate Mary Cassatt. Her paintings stand on their own as deeply felt interpretations of human beings, an impression confirmed by the retrospective of her work, the first in almost 30 years, now on at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

True, Cassatt is known best for her paintings of women and chubby children, such as the famous The Child's Bath. Yet feminism for Cassatt, who lived mostly in France, was different from contemporary American feminism. Instead of denigrating motherhood, earlier feminists saw maternity as the crux of their power. The French, especially, viewed healthy children and close-knit families as important--and the source of their strength as a nation.

Cassatt came from a wealthy Philadelphia family that believed in travel as a means of educating children. She saw museums in the major European cities early on, and they kindled her interest in art. She studied first at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, then in Paris, becoming accomplished enough to have a painting accepted in the annual salon exhibition of 1868. …

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