Mary Cassatt, like her contemporary Thomas Eakins, left Philadelphia for study in Paris in 1866. As a woman, she was ineligible for admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and perhaps because she was excluded from the official system, her taste in art was much more adventurous than that of any other young American expatriate artist. Cassatt was drawn to the work of such antiestablishment figures as Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and the group derisively called the "Impressionists" after their first exhibition in 1874. Her friend and artistic adviser Edgar Degas invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists, and she was the only American to do so, beginning in 1879. A Woman and Girl Driving, portraying the artist's sister Lydia Cassatt with a young niece of Degas's in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, shows Cassatt's affinity with the Impressionists in the depiction of a scene of daily life with fresh colors and loosely defined forms. The asymmetrical composition and its abrupt truncation on all four sides are particularly reminiscent of her friend Degas. Darrel Sewell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 289.
Mary Cassatt’s (American, 1844–1926) paintings, pastels, and prints demonstrate her personal philosophy that “women should be someone and not something.” In domestic scenes, Cassatt explores the lives and occupations of women, showing them as active and engaged figures. She depicts women reading, caregivers bathing children, and ladies enjoying tea, sealing a letter, or driving a carriage.
Born in Pennsylvania, Cassatt was the only American to join the French Impressionists. Although she spent most of her life abroad, her family’s connections to Philadelphia have made the museum, which holds eighty-three artworks and numerous letters by Cassatt, an important center for her work.
Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art