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Mary Cassatt (American, active in France,, 1844–1926),
Woman Reading , 1878–79
oil on canvas, 38 3/4 x 31 inches
Museum purchase, Joslyn Endowment Fund, 1943.38
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The most universally recognized female painter associated with Impressionism, Mary Cassatt also provided a vital link between American collectors and the French Impressionists. The daughter of an elite Philadelphia family, she was in a position socially to convince friends, in particular Louisine Elder Havemeyer, to buy the work of the new French painters. Cassatt’s influence helped the Havemeyer family to amass one of the greatest collections of Impressionist works in America, much of which now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After years of traveling with her family in Europe and studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Cassatt settled permanently in Paris in 1874. In 1877 she was invited by Edgar Degas to join the Impressionists, participating in the series of historic exhibitions held in Paris in the late 1870s and early 80s. Regarded by Europeans at this time as one of the most talented painters of the Impressionist group, Cassatt took an active interest in and explored their new approaches to color theory, brushwork, and figure-ground relationships. Her compositions, like those often used by Degas, her teacher and friend for many years, were considerably influenced by photography and the then very popular art of Japan.

A forceful artist with a highly personal style, Cassatt was essentially a painter of domestic scenes. Lydia Cassatt served as a model for her sister many times, either reading, weaving or otherwise occupied, but never giving the impression of posing for a portrait. The high-key colors and loose brushwork are consistent with the work of the Impressionists; the influence of photography and Japanese prints can be seen in the cropped composition and the alignment of the figure along strong diagonals.

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