The Bacchante, 1872

View all works from this time period.

Works mentioned in this section:
The Young Bride
The Mandolin Player
The Bacchante
Torero and Young Girl
Copy after Frans Hals
Portrait of Eddy Cassatt
Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading

Early Career

Though Cassatt began her artistic studies in Philadelphia in 1860, none of her student work is known to exist because she destroyed the early works still in her possession in 1906. Therefore, the only works of hers known to be from the 1860s are The Young Bride, likely painted around 1866–67 (reportedly given by the artist to her chambermaid in 1907), and The Mandolin Player, which is also her first work accepted at the Paris Salon, in 1868. Both of these works were created in Paris or its immediate environs, where Cassatt studied and painted after having moved to France with her mother in 1865.

She spent much of the ensuing decade traveling through Europe, studying Old Master methods, receiving occasional training from academic painters, and moving toward modern techniques and subject matter.

In these years, Cassatt altered her signature type to signify shifts in her physical location and artistic style, for example, from “Mary Stevenson/Paris” (1866–67) to “Mary/Stevenson Cassatt/Parme 1872” to “M.S.C./Seville/1873” to “M.S.Cassatt./Paris/1876.”

Critics of the period (mainly American) admired her work and found her brushwork in particular to be stronger than they expected from a woman; in fact, they often characterized it as “virile” and even “brutal.”

The Mandolin Player reflects influences ranging from the Romanticism of Corot to the burgeoning modernism of Manet (cf. his first Salon picture, The Spanish Singer, 1860).

Cassatt's teachers in the late 1860s included Jean-Léon Gérôme, painter of Orientalist and historical subjects; Charles Chaplin, a Rococo revivalist; and Thomas Couture, Manet’s first painting teacher. In late 1869 and early 1870, she also worked in Rome.

After returning to Pennsylvania (1871) to sit out the Franco-Prussian War, she garnered a commission to travel to Parma and copy the works of Correggio for a Pittsburgh church. Once in Parma (1872), however, she found herself more involved in her own original work, though the lessons of Correggio and Parmigianino remained important throughout her career.

One painting from this period, The Bacchante, draws upon Old Master tradition while also participating in the Rococo revival of Carpeaux and Chaplin, bringing together contradictory archetypes (Madonna vs. maenad), perhaps as a means of commenting upon societal limitations for women.

In late 1872, Cassatt moved to Spain, where she became enamored of the bravura technique of Velázquez. Her works of the period employed contemporary Spanish subject matter (considered to be one of the motifs of the emerging “modern painting”) and continued to parallel those of Manet in some respects.

At this time she also became interested in issues of physiognomics and began to combine Spanish subject matter with the types of gestures also seen in pictures by many of the Flemish and Netherlandish painters whose works were on view in the Prado (Torero and Young Girl).

These are the same types of gestures that would later be admired by Emile Duranty, the art critic whose realist theories were important to the development of Impressionism.

In the spring of 1873, Cassatt traveled to the Low Countries, where she came to admire Frans Hals, whose work she copied (Copy after Frans Hals), as well as Rubens.

She also studied Flemish and Netherlandish Old Master paintings featuring types of domestic subject matter she later employed: women engaged in needlework, playing music, taking tea, sitting with dogs, and caring for children.

After working in Rome and Villiers-le-bel from late 1873 through 1874, Cassatt returned to Paris by the winter of 1874 and turned to creating works in the manner of the leading French portraitist of the period, Carolus-Duran, perhaps in hopes of gaining commissions.

Cassatt made at least two rare full-length figures in this period, including Portrait of Eddy Cassatt (done during a quick trip to Philadelphia in 1875; it is her largest easel painting).

In 1876, back in Paris, Cassatt began to incorporate influences from the French Rococo into her work, painting two of her tiniest pictures, including Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading.

After having only one Salon work refused since her first Salon in 1868, both her submissions were refused in 1877  (one of two works was refused in 1875, its background considered too light; it was accepted the next year after she darkened the background).

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