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Who Was Mary Cassatt and Why Was She So Important?


One of the notable distinctions of the first exhibition of the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. (later known as the Impressionists), held 150 years ago this year, was that women artists were welcome. The Impressionist exhibitions gave women—largely excluded from official contexts—the opportunity to show their work to a public audience, and the American artist Mary Cassatt took full advantage, participating in four out of eight of them. This year Cassatt’s accomplishments are celebrated in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Mary Cassatt at Work,” a show opening in May of paintings, prints, and pastels from the museum’s collection. Here we examine 14 key artworks that reflect the diverse facets of Cassatt’s career, as well as the affordances and constraints of being a female artist in a male-dominated 19th-century art world.



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