Mary Stevenson Cassatt was one of the first American-born Impressionist painters. Though we often associate her with Philadelphia, she was born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Pa. (now part of Pittsburgh), and lived most of her life in Paris.
Cassatt spent much of her youth in Europe. Her Philadelphia connection began in the 1860s, when she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She was one of a group of female students who helped to introduce "life" classes - those dedicated to drawing from live models - by posing for one another.
After studying at the academy, Cassatt returned to Europe, where she took more private art lessons in Paris. Though she briefly returned to Philadelphia in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, she went back to Europe in mid-1871, once the war was over, and permanently settled in Paris.
Cassatt developed many relationships through her artwork, which was regularly displayed in Paris salons, but her friendship with Edgar Degas helped cement her place among the Impressionists. Under the influence of Degas and other Impressionists, Cassatt improved her skills, experimented with composition, and forayed into printmaking. She became known for her depictions of family, particularly mothers and children, and produced works in pastel and paint as well as prints. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has Maternal Caress (c. 1896) and Mother and Child (Maternal Kiss) (1897), among others.
Cassatt maintained ties to the States and often sent her works back for exhibitions. She also stayed in touch with local family members. Alexander J. Cassatt, who lived in Berwyn, was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1899 to 1906, and J. Gardner Cassatt was a local financier for whom the Cassatt House at 1320 Locust St. is named.
Later in life, Cassatt served as an adviser to art collectors from the United States. Through this work, she helped develop some important collections, including the Havemeyer, most of which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She eventually gave in to failing eyesight and stopped producing work in the early 1900s. She died in 1926 at her country home in France.