Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Mary Cassatt: Portrait of an American Impressionist

Mary Cassatt: Portrait of an American Impressionist

Thomas Streissguth
For ages 8 to 12
Lerner, 1998   ISBN: 978-1575052915

When Mary was seven years old her family left their home in Pennsylvania and went to live in Europe for a while. They began in Paris, and the experience greatly affected Mary, showing her that a very different world existed outside the United States. Four years later, the Cassatts went back to America but later, when she was a young woman, newly emerged from art school, Mary pestered her father to allow her to return to Paris, which in her mind was the only place to get a real art education.

It was here, surrounded by galleries, museums, studios, and artist's garrets, that Mary really began to stretch her artistic muscles, taking lessons with famous artists, and seeing and copying great paintings. After some time, her work was accepted in the highly competitive Salon, but at the same time her paintings were also respected and liked by the Impressionist painters who were causing such a stir in the artistic world at the time. Mary did not choose to align herself with any particular movement. Instead, she remained independent and she was successful creating what she wanted, painting pictures of family scenes that were bought by collectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

This well written and interesting biography not only tells readers the story of Mary Cassatt but it also paints a picture of a very fascinating period in art history. The author also shows us that Mary was quite unique, for there were very few women who were able to make a career in the art world at the time. Even more remarkable is the fact that Mary was not French, and yet she was able to create a life for herself and her family in France and became very much admired by the French people. So much so indeed that one could say that they claimed her as one of their own. Readers will find both black and white and color photographs of Mary's paintings throughout the book.