There is nothing I admire more than a talented woman who knows her worth. A woman who pursues her dreams, without limitation and fear. Mary Cassatt was definitely that and more. If you’re not familiar with Cassatt, I suggest you read the rest of the post. Reading her story is nothing but inspirational and probably would’ve dominated the social media world if she were here today.
Born around the 1840s, Cassatt was born into a pretty wealthy and established family; her father being a real estate and investment broker. Skip ahead to the 1850s where her mother of all trades taught Cassatt the following: homemaking, embroidery, music, sketching and painting. As she grew older, her family lived in Europe for several years to experience culture; eventually becoming a very well-rounded individual.
Of all the trades she was taught at a young age, painting became her passion. So much so, that she wanted to go to school to become a professional painter. At the age of 16, she enrolled in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It was uncommon for women to attend school or pretty much anything that was male dominated, so she wasn’t welcomed with open arms. With a mixture of negativity and the school’s curriculum, Cassatt grew tired and moved to France to learn from Old Masters. All by herself. You go girl!
Passing over Cassatt’s story where her father’s disapproval, submitting work under a different name, the Franco-Prussian War, and becoming an established artist from 1872-74, she befriended Degas in 1879! It started as being an admirer of his work to being one of his strongest friends. Through the connection, Cassatt was able to submit 11 pieces of work with the Impressionists of 1879 (Monet, Manet, Degas, Caillebotte, need I say more?). It was definitely the highlight of her artistic career.
Most impressionists are known for landscapes, light and movements. Cassatt was known for her portraits of women, more specifically, mothers and their children. Which brings me to The Child’s Bath. Painted in 1893, it shows the relationship between mother and child.
According to The Art Institute’s Art Access online, it states, “In rendering this subject, the artist relied on keen observation rather than idealization, yet still portraying great intimacy. The woman’s gestures—one firm hand securing the child in her lap, the other gently caressing its small foot—are both natural and emblematic, communicating her tender concern for the child’s well-being. The two figures gaze in the same direction, looking together at their paired reflection in the basin of water…The many paintings, pastels, and prints in which Cassatt depicted children being bathed, dressed, read to, held, or nursed reflect the most advanced 19th-century ideas about raising children.”
The Child’s Bath creates various feelings for me. Whenever I look at the painting, it reminds me of the relationship I had with my grandmother. Our bond was like the painting, effortless and filled with love. My grandmother was the type of person who would do anything for the people she loved, even on her toughest days where the world got the best of her. With that said, the painting reminded me of summer days where the house was too hot. We’d go outside, turned on the water hose, filled up a bucket, and cooled ourselves off. Once we were done, she’d sit next to me with a towel (just like the lady in the painting) and dry me off before I entered the house.
I believe the toughest part about losing someone you cared for are the memories. They hit you in tiny waves and all at once, but they’re all we have left. The Child’s Bath hits me like a tidal wave, but that’s why I hold the painting dear to my heart.
I am completely grateful for Cassatt’s existence and influence in the art world. She managed to almost always show women as the main subject, relationships between them, and relevancy in women artists. Cassatt was the second woman impressionist to showcase her work amongst Impressionist giants. To display work next to influential artist is probably the most intimidating feeling to have, but she just focused on her art and craftsmanship. Taking an opportunity and creating beautiful artwork that shows more than a technique(s) is what I aspire to do as a designer.