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Mary Cassatt: A Life
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Despite Mary Cassatt's continuing resurgence in popularity as an artist since the 1970s, prior to this volume her biographers had missed the boat. As a result, most people who admire Ms. Cassatt's wonderful paintings are filled with inaccurate beliefs about her life and the condition of women artists during her life. If you care enough about her work to want to correct those mistaken beliefs, please do read this volume. You'll also learn even more if you follow that reading by also looking at Cassatt: A Retrospective by the same author, Nancy Mowll Mathews.

Mary Cassatt is an elusive subject for several reasons. She didn't write many letters, often didn't care what others thought of her and wasn't written about by others nearly as often as she deserved. In addition, her role as an iconic woman pioneer in the Impressionist movement has caused many to "interpret" her life to explain other agendas.

The reality is much more interesting than the misinformation. At a young age, she was exposed to the leading cultural events in Europe . . . a rarity for any American. Her mother was probably one of the most intelligent and capable women of her generation anywhere. The family moved around constantly in rented homes to stay close to the various children and business opportunities. Only after her father's death was Ms. Cassatt able to purchase and enjoy a home. Contrary to popular belief today, it wasn't at all unusual for women to pursue painting careers. In fact, the Louvre was full of American women painting copies of the masterpieces there. What was unusual was for a woman to be viewed as the peer of the best male artists. Ms. Cassatt clearly reached that pinnacle during her Impressionist years and beyond. Much to her own disgust, she let herself be led into painting the mother and child paintings that we all love so much by the marketing plans of her gallery . . . rather than her own passion. Although profitable, this path was in her view a diversion from her better work. Paradoxically, Ms. Cassatt's two bothers were even more famous in their day than she was . . . even though we have barely heard of them today. Her older brother was, in fact, one of the most important railroad developers in the eastern United States. As head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, he directed the development of the railroad tunnel into Manhattan.

Ms. Mathews does a nice job of balancing what is known from what is not . . . while pointing out what the possibilities were. As a result of this biography, I felt I knew the real Mary Cassatt for the first time.

Bravo, Ms. Mathews!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2011
Based on the great review above I decided to buy this book to learn more about the artist. I was very disappointed to find that all the illustrations are shown in black and white. Such a large part of the learning and appreciation comes from seeing the paintings as they should be - in colour. I am still deciding whether to keep the book or not. It may prove to be the definitive biography for our generation, as claimed on the back cover, but I do feel disappointed and less motivated to read it!
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