By the fall of 1874 Mary Cassatt had a studio in Paris and her sister Lydia came for her first visit. The family agreed that Mary needed to be accompanied and chaperoned in Paris, and Lydia was happy to fulfill that family obligation and leave Philadelphia. This marks a very happy time for Mary and Lydia. For the first few years Lydia made trips back and forth from Philadelphia to Paris. She was eager to socialize and visit all the cultural places in Paris with Mary. Lydia also became a model for Mary’s paintings. Mary’s style of painting changed as she dedicated herself to becoming a very good portraitist. She targeted the American tourists who wanted to bring a souvenir home. She joined the circle of expatriate, wealthy Americans who she hoped to get commissions from. Unfortunately, the Salon rejected two of her paintings at this time, and all of her social circles heard about it, making Mary feel humiliated.
Luckily, right after her rejection, she was invited by Edouard Manet himself in 1877 to join the Impressionists. This marks the beginning of a life long friendship with the Impressionist painters. She did not meet with them at their usual café, Nouvelle Athenes, but she, as did Berthe Morisot, entertained her friends at her home.
Degas became a close friend who visited her studio on a regular basis, and even picked up a brush to make changes to her work. Her paintings became more colorful, and she focused more on painting children, mothers and the social life in Paris. She would go to visit friends, the theater or just stroll at the park carrying her sketchbook.
Girl in a Blue Armchair is a painting from this period that shows Mary’s drastic change to brighter colors in addition to the Impressionistic movement style of painting.
Lydia’s health had declined in 1876 preventing her of returning to Paris that fall. By 1878, their parents decided they all should move to Paris so that Lydia could be close to the best doctors and Mary was not living by herself.
This was a big change for Mary’s lifestyle and freedom. Now she had to give up a lot of her time to be with her family, who were experiencing loneliness and the changes of moving to a different culture. They found a bigger place for all of them to live together, and by 1879, her parents were able to witness firsthand their daughter’s first Impressionist exhibit. All the artists made a profit, and 16,000 visitors paid for tickets. Mary Cassatt got great reviews and was invited to participate in the Society of American Artists ‘ New York exhibit, which she spent the next six months preparing for.
By 1880, Mary decided to try printing. The Japanese print style had been very much admired by the Impressionists, and she decided to try her hand at this new technique. She spent most of her evenings sketching, and her day at Degas’s studio because he had all the printing equipment.She produced stunning prints that she exhibited in the following years with pastels and oil paintings.
The art critics continuously praised her depiction of women, children and family life. By 1881, Mary was a well-established professional painter when Paul Durand Ruel, a very well known art dealer, proposed to represent her. She accepted and for the next twenty years they had a successful partnership.
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