By Darla McCammon
One of my favorite paintings is Lydia assise dans le jardin created by Mary Cassatt in 1880. (photo provided). This painting greets me every time I turn on my computer as I have made it my background selection. Cassatt, an American, was born in 1844 in Pennsylvania but spent most of her adult life in Paris.
In this work, Cassatt is at the height of her talent as she switched from oil painting to pastel. Pastels come in crayon sized chalky sticks and a multiplicity of colors. Oil pastels are similar but have a not so chalky base that consists of more oil. Happily, in 1964 our National Art Gallery acquired three wooden boxes full of Mary Cassatt’s pastel painting supplies. People flocked to the museum to see both the exhibit featuring work by Cassatt along with art by her friend and mentor Edgar Degas. They had become lifelong friends when Cassatt moved to France. But the boxes of pastel crayons were the hit of the show and imagination thrived around such questions as “why is that color almost used up, and that one is barely used?”.
Cassatt’s father, a wealthy man, objected to her artwork, didn’t want her to have a career at all, and tried to impede her love for painting—even called her “a bohemian.” She was strong enough to overcome his objections and enrolled in an art school in Philadelphia when she was an adolescent. The Academy was populated by patronizing male teachers and students. Cassatt chafed at the slow pace. She wanted to learn everything she could about art—now!
She left the school and moved to Europe, specifically Paris, during the 1860s. She re-visited the places her father had taken the family to live for a few years in the 1850s. She also found a way to get private lessons at the Louvre and began developing and improving her art.
She became very good at portraiture and in 1868 she was invited to show a portrait at the Paris Salon. This was her ticket to prestige ad recognition as an artist, although she entered the work under a pseudonym—Mary Stevenson.
In 1879 Cassatt exhibited 11 of her now impressionistic works in a large, commercially successful exhibit. She became more and more famous for her portraits. Her life was interrupted a few times when she had to attend her ill sister and her mother. Then on a trip to Egypt with her brother, he died with a devastating illness. She was not able to paint for a long time and when she did, it was not long before she had to give it up entirely as diabetes ravaged her body and caused blindness. The boxes of pastel crayons were donated to her friend’s granddaughter and eventually made their way to Washington DC to the National Gallery of art where they have been memorialized and an inspiration to other artists. If you have time, look up Cassatt’s paintings on the internet and see the progression and devotion she put into her work. If you are an artist, perhaps you should think about saving your crayons and art tools!
UPCOMING EVENTS: Visit Lakeland Art Association at 302 Winona Ave, Warsaw, open Wed-Sat from 11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to view competitive work in the recent exhibit. Also, visit Whitko Art Gallery 130 N. First St. in Pierceton this week to view their recent exhibition. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.