In Cassatt’s lifetime, women were usually simply the models for paintings, and it was not socially acceptable to distinguish themselves as professional artists. Thus Cassatt’s courage to pursue life as an artist is noteworthy.
American by birth, Cassatt lived abroad on and off with her family until her early 30's when she settled permanently in Paris. From then on, she returned to the United States only to attend exhibitions of her work. She was fortunate to have come from a wealthy family and so could afford the best training and not be cold and hungry like so many of her peers. Cassatt received her earliest training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and honed her innate talents through further study in Paris under the painter Charles Chaplin. Multiple visits to Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Holland offered exposure to diverse architecture, sculpture, ceramics, and paintings, and helped form her “student of the world of art” persona.
Although Cassatt never married nor had children, she is best known for her numerous delicate renditions of such intimate relationships. She won considerable critical acclaim for these oil and pastel portraits. In addition to her talents as a painter, Cassatt was highly regarded for her work in etching and color prints - each again historically the domain of men.
Cassatt remained close friends with the somewhat reclusive painter Edgar Degas throughout her career and continued to exhibit with her contemporaries until her death in France at age 81. Although she lost her sight in her later years, she never stopped trying to capture on canvas the beauty of the world around her.