Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) – A five-cent stamp issued in 1966, the 40th anniversary of her death; reissued in 1988.
Usually credited as the first American woman to achieve genuine artistic success, Mary Cassatt lived most of her life in France.
Born near Pittsburgh, she grew up there and in the Philadelphia area. Her family was wealthy enough to travel, and Mary decided at an early age to emulate the work she saw in art museums. She spent the Civil War years studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, but Cassatt was dissatisfied with the education she received there, and in 1866, persuaded her family to let her go to Paris. Except for a brief return during the Franco-Prussian War, she stayed in Europe until long after she was established as a great artist. She remained emotionally close to her family, who also lived abroad during much of her life.
After traveling and painting in Italy, Spain, and Holland, Cassatt settled permanently in Paris, where Edgar Degas became her chief supporter. She was considered part of the pioneering French Impressionists, her 1876 exhibit for the Society of American Artists was the first Impressionism seen in this country. Cassatt contributed to the popularity of Impressionism for many years thereafter by advising American art collectors on their purchases.
After the 1880s, she stopped displaying with the Impressionists; her work became more linear and she developed the mother and child theme for which she is remembered. Cassatt also began to specialize in prints, producing several new techniques in this area. A hard worker who regularly painted eight hours a day, she held a one-woman show in Paris in 1891 and another in 1893; in between, she was commissioned by Bertha Palmer and the Board of Lady Managers to paint a mural for the Woman’s Building at the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93. The mural was shipped to the United States, and Cassatt did not return to the US until 1898; her last visit was in 1908.
Her eyesight had begun to fail by the time that she was honored as a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1904, and by 1914, she could no longer work. The battles of World War I, which drove her from her home, prevented access to ophthalmologists and left the artist, to whom sight was everything, nearly blind and bitterly unhappy. Cassatt died at her country home near Paris at age eighty-two and was buried in France.