Mary Cassatt was born in 1844 in Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. By the turn of the century, she had become recognized as one of the preeminent painters of her home country and of France, which she made her permanent home in 1875.
Cassatt studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1861 to 1865, and moved to France in 1866. While there, she painted with Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Edgar Degas. Her early career in France is largely undocumented, as many of her paintings from that period were destroyed in a fire. Her first public success came at the Salon of 1868 with a painting praised by a New York Times critic for its "vigor of treatment and fine qualities of color." Cassatt continued to exhibit at the Salon through the mid-1870s, and attracted the attention of Degas, who invited her to join the Impressionists.
She embraced the subject matter favored by her colleagues, particularly bright colors and outdoor scenes of everyday life. She also quickly adopted impressionist techniques of applying paint rapidly. Her lifestyle being more confined than those of her contemporaries, Cassatt developed her own subject matter, using her family members as models. From 1879 to 1886 she was one of only three women -and the only American woman- to exhibit with the Impressionists.
Cassatt is best known for her portrayals of mothers and children, and it was in the 1881 Impressionist exhibition that Cassatt first displayed these images. Though a sensitive painter of women and even the occasional male subject, Cassatt achieved her greatest success in the depiction of maternity. After the final Impressionist exhibition of 1886, she began to experiment more widely, transforming her imagery with references to Old Master Madonna and Child paintings as well as Japanese prints. Her experiments with printmaking at this time resulted in a landmark of 19th-Century graphic art: a set of ten color prints first shown at Galeries Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1891. Cassatt eventually abandoned Impressionist work for paintings that emphasized shapes and geometric forms. She did a series of color prints that combined drypoint, etching, and aquatint by studying Japanese woodblock techniques. From 1890, she had her own printing press at her home.
In later years, Cassatt became increasingly involved with women's rights causes. She painted a mural for the Women's Building in the 1893 Chicago World's Exposition, the theme of the mural being 'Modern Woman.' She also helped organize an exhibition of pictures by Old Masters and Degas, in addition to her own works, to benefit women's suffrage in 1915.
Mary Cassatt resided in Europe, mostly at her country chateau near Paris, for the remainder of her life. She lived into the 20th century, but it is generally thought that the quality of her work at the turn of the century declined. By 1914 she had to give up painting due of poor eyesight. Cassatt died in 1926