C H A P T E R O N E T H E E A R L Y Y E A R S M ary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (across the river from Pittsburgh), the fourth sur- viving child and second daughter to a well-to-do family. Her father, Robert Cassatt, was a success- ful stockbroker and financier; he made his political contribution by becoming a council member twice and then mayor of Allegheny City. Mary’s mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, her husband’s junior by ten years, came from a banking family that had provided her with the best possible upbringing, including a French-speaking governess who gave her a Continental education. The Cassatt family was of French Huguenot origin; their ancestors had disembarked in New York in 1662 after escap- ing religious persecution in France. The family name was originally spelled Cossart; it evolved to Cassat at the beginning of the nineteenth century and eventually assumed its current form around the time of Mary Cassatt’s birth. Childhood and Early Education The restless spirit of a rapidly developing country combined with Mr. Cassatt’s acute sense of entrepre- neurship ledhis family onto a path of constantmotion, first bringing themback to Pittsburgh, then to a coun- try home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and finally to Philadelphia. However, Robert Cassatt seems to have

Two Women Seated by a Woodland Stream c. 1869, oil on canvas; 9 1/2 x 13 in. (24 x 33 cm). Musée de la Ville de Paris, Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

This study of two women seated under trees on the bank of a brook is one of the few works by Cassatt where the dominant feature is the landscape rather than the figures. Although painting en plein air was a hallmark of the Impressionist movement, Cassatt usually treated the landscape as a secondary aspect in her work, relegating it to the background. The sketchy character of this work seems to indicate that it was never finished.


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