Painting With The Girls 121
April 30, 2016
Day 121 (245 days to go)
Mary Cassatt’s return home in 1870 was not a happy one. Very quickly, she missed all the activities of her life in Paris and was bored being with her family. There are letters from this period that reveal she did not get along with her brother Aleck’s new wife Lois Buchanan, who probably did not think Mary’s life style was a proper one.
As soon as she was able, she reconnected with her old school friends and convinced her sister Lydia to leave Altoona with her and go to Philadelphia. Her close friend, Emily Sartain, was there, and she enjoyed helping her settle in a new studio and find models. Mary took two of her paintings to New York to an art dealer hoping to sell them and pay for her ticket back to Europe.
Her spring in Philadelphia went well, but her family convinced her to come back for the summer. They rented a house in the countryside near her brother Aleck and her disapproving sister in law. It was probably in this uncomfortable setting that Mary Cassatt decided she had to do something serious to improve her professional life. She went back to New York and took her two paintings to Chicago. There they drew the attention of the Catholic Bishop, who commissioned her to go to Italy and copy some Correggio paintings for the church. Her two paintings burned in the great Chicago fire of October 8, 1871, but the church offered her $300 to go to Italy and copy the Corraggio paintings. By December, Mary and Emily Sartain were on a steamer heading to Liverpool.
They immediately made their way to Italy and settled in Parma, where Mary would copy Correggio. In Parma, they met Signor Rossi, the director of the Academy, who gladly introduced them to the local art society of Parma. Their reception was very warm, and in a short period of time, Mary and Emily were acquainted with the cosmopolitan society, and they felt a sense of purpose as they worked. While there, Mary continued her own work, and by the spring of 1872, she shipped Pendant Le Carnival to Paris. The Salon accepted the painting and Mary was highly praised by all her teachers at the Parma Academy. They all wanted her to make Italy her permanent residence, but Mary decided it was time to move on. Emily Sartain went to Paris to visit with her brother, and Mary went to Spain.
Nancy Mowll Mathews writes in Mary Cassatt, A Life, “As soon as she left Parma however, the extraordinary combination of circumstances that brought her such approval and celebrity could never be re-created, even in subsequent trips to that small Italian city”.
Mary arrived in Madrid in September 1872. She lingered there for a while until she thought she had enjoyed all the great masters’ paintings in the museums. She then moved to Seville, where she stayed in a boarding house and made her way into the art society of Seville. Only six paintings of this period survive, although this is the time she painted the most. She hired models and dressed them in traditional local costumes. Again, one of her paintings, Torero And Young Girl, was accepted at the Paris Salon. In 1873 Mary Cassatt left Seville and arrived in Paris, where she met her mother. The two traveled to the Netherlands, where Mary painted her mother’s portrait and studied Rubens. Mrs. Cassatt left for Philadelphia in October, and Mary moved to Rome, where she again studied the Italian masters. She had not sold paintings lately, and her financial situation was not good, even though the Salon accepted Ida in 1874. She thought it would be in her best interests to return to Paris, where the art market was still vibrant, concluding her life as a nomad.