Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) was overjoyed when, in 1877, the artist Edgar Degas invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists, then the most radical artist group in Paris. She remarked years later about that moment: “At last I could work with absolute independence.” Free from the rigid conventions of the Paris Salon (the central venue in which artists showed their work at the time), Cassatt began to pursue her own vision. She reimagined her approach to art, and in 1879 she turned toward printmaking as a means to express her new artistic aspirations.
Inside Out: The Prints of Mary Cassatt, drawn primarily from The Lunder Collection, highlights Cassatt’s creative process and her fearless experimentation. Born into an upper-class family in Pennsylvania, she trained as an artist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then undertook further studies in Europe. She settled in Paris in 1874, and soon her parents and sister joined her there. Prevailing norms of the time limited Cassatt, a woman artist, with regard to the subject matter she could depict and the social spaces she could frequent. As an Impressionist printmaker, she focused on the domestic lives, social rituals, and leisure activities of women in nineteenth-century Paris.
The experimental nature of these prints, combined with an attention on modern urban women, made these works quite unusual in their time. Yet, today, those very qualities of domesticity, intimacy, and privacy could be seen as reinforcing stereotypes of women. This exhibition invites viewers to reflect on how we each experience family, caregiving, and identity in our own lives, and to explore Cassatt’s extraordinary capacity to evoke mood, feeling, and setting.
Peasant Mother and Child, c. 1894. Drypoint and aquatint on paper. Tenth (final) state. 171/4 x 111/4 in. (43.8 x 28.6 cm). The Lunder Collection, 2017.468
As a printmaker, Mary Cassatt was both methodical and inventive, willing to combine techniques and experiment with materials. Learn more about her process and the innovative works she created.
Inside Out: The Prints of Mary Cassatt is curated by Justin McCann, Lunder Curator of American Art and Whistler Studies at the Colby College Museum of Art, and Shalini Le Gall, Chief Curator, Susan Donnell and Harry W. Konkel Curator of European Art, and Director of Academic Engagement at the Portland Museum of Art. The majority of the works on view are part of the Lunder Collection, given to the Colby Museum by Peter and Paula Lunder in 2012. Wallpaper design by Frances MacLeod © 2020.