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Starting a New Trend in Artless America

Richard H. Love is the owner of R.H. Love Galleries in Chicago, and is also involved with being a historian, educator, art dealer, artist, media personality, exhibition coordinator, and author. He has travelled around the whole world and has covered almost every facet of art and was once extensively involved in the owning, selling, and trading works of famous art

Impressionism, an art movement based on scenes of impressions seemingly incomplete, dominated the American art scene in the late 19th century. One prevalent artist of the period – Mary Cassatt – dominated the scene in almost all art exhibits in America. In Richard H. Love’s Cassatt: The Independent. Love follows the life of Cassatt from her beginnings, her rise to a respected artist, her climax, and her end. Her work has influenced art across the United States and was responsible for Impressionism movement in North America.

Mary Cassatt grew up in Pittsburgh where she learned French fluidly and with ease. At the time, Courbet’s art had been rejected from the Salon, which resulted in the Pavillion du realisme. This art revolution that Courbet started dawned on Mary and sparked her desire in art. Her father, initially against her desire to learn art, allowed her to join the local art academy Philadelphia Pennsylvania Academy. After graduating from art school and s a young woman and in her art, she decided to further her career in Europe – specifically France. “She seemed to be groping: extant works from 1868 reveal obvious problems in drawing and a lack of self-assurance”.1 One of her very first painting recorded “Two Women, One Sketching” was most probably a picture of her friend, Miss Gordon, who guided and helped her during Cassatt’s stay in France.  However, Cassatt’s stay in France was cut short after three years of serious political problems between the French and the Prussians; on the nineteenth of July, French emperor Napoleon declared war over Prussia. She moved back to Philadelphia with her family.

Still desiring to be more involved in the field of art, Mary made arrangements to return to Europe. She was met with her first huge step: her work “On the Balcony during the Carnival” was accepted into the Paris Salon.2 This gave her a new inspiration to continue her work, but soon this inspiration died quickly as she realized that “this level of success resulted in artistic complacency that Mary Cassatt would have joined the ranks of many forgotten average talents because the painting is relatively ordinary and certainly sentimental.”3 Cassatt visited Parma to study the paintings of Correggio and Parmigianino – she looked to see what had made the artists stand out, to remove themselves from the rest of the artists of that time period. It was here that Mary might have begun her interest of drawing infants and babies. Her development was slow; unlike her contemporary artists, Cassatt desired an independence from teachers and trainers or academies. Her “strong need to remain independent even at this stage of her career would confirm this assumption” that she wanted to removed herself from the public norm.4 In 1874, another of her artwork was selected for the Paris Salon: her “Madame Cortier (Ida).” Her sister, Lydia, was also involved in the art world. However, when Lydia had sent a picture to the Paris Salon, it was promptly rejected for not following the guidelines that the Salon had religiously affirmed. Cassatt changed her sisters drawing and darkened the background; the painting was accepted into the Salon. This act angered Cassatt as she realized how strict the guidelines were to enter the Salon; she made this her last year to exhibit art there.

In 1877, Cassatt became involved with what she is famous for now: Impressionism. In this year, she met an eccentric soul who also had the same desires as her, Eduard Degas. Degas had observed her works in the 1874 Salon and was impressed with her brushwork and her subject matter. After meeting with Degas, Cassatt was offered by Degas to join the ranks of those known as the impressionists. Cassatt had “accepted with delight - finally [she] could work with utter independence, without considering the eventual judgment of a jury.”5 She saw Degas’ invitation as a key to artistic freedom. Her dislike for conventional and contemporary art had made Degas’ invitation exceedingly attractive, yet she was confronted with another problem: if she moved too quickly to the ideas of Impressionism, she would be branded as a follower of Degas, completely backfiring her main intent in joining the league of Impressionists. Her first works as an Impressionist artist were “Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading” and “Lydia Reading the Morning Paper, No. 1.”6 In these scenes, she echoes the compositional formula that Degas had devised in some of his ballet scenes: Cassatt holds the viewer on a low line of vision, the floor is raised near the top of the picture which eliminated the reference to the ceiling. With Degas’ encouragement, she became more determined than ever to prove her worth in the real art world.

Cassatt began to paint not for training, but artwork worthy to be turned in to exhibits. In 1879, she began extensive work involving with her sister, Lydia, as the subject. Her picture of “Woman and the Child Driving” illustrates “her compositional talent and reveals her decided growth in her impressionism.”7 Cassatt had submitted her art to the second annual show of the Society of American Artists at the Kurtz Gallery in New York. She soon became immersed in two societies growing out from the protests against the academy’s rejection of young artists and its inflexible exhibition policies: the Society of American Artists and Societe anonyme des artistes, peintres. The former was a determined but respectful group of young men and women who desired to better the plight of the community of art in America. The latter was a group tied by bickering eccentrics motivated by hopes of furthering their art. During this time, Lydia began to fall ill; however, Cassatt had still portrayed Lydia as a strong and healthy woman. It was also during this time that she began to be involved with her maternal themes. Her first work “Mother About to Wash her Sleepy Child” was shown in the fifth impressionist group show.8 The painting “was masterfully handled with forceful, albeit controlled, brushwork that reveals a full-blown impressionist style less dependent on Degas.”9 She soon reached her independent status – she created a work that was in her own name and design. Her next artwork was radically different in subject matter that she usually drew; in “Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly”, “Mary’s portrayal of Lydia reveals a frail woman with a pale complexion, obviously a person in ill health.”10 Through this painting and her “Cup of Tea”, her fame was becoming renowned with the recognition by critics of France.11

At the end of summer of 1880, Cassatt returned to Paris and painted an oil work “Lydia Working at a Tapestry Frame.”12 In this painting, Cassatt “features a young woman busy at her task in the near foreground. The viewer becomes a candid onlooker.”13 It is evident from this picture that she learned a great deal from Degas in terms of concept, composition, and technique. From 1881 to 1882, Lydia’s health began to grow steadily worse and Cassatt had to act as a nurse to her sister. As a result, she didn’t have many chances to paint even though she had to prepare for the forthcoming seventh impressionist group show of 1882. Lydia had been taken to Pau, France to be tended at a medical institution, but without luck, she died in 1882. The weeks after her death took a major toll on Mary’s productivity – it “dropped severely and her emotional stability was shaken drastically in spite of her will to remain strong.”14 Although Cassatt was mainly a painter, in 1889 she also did etchings and began to execute a number of soft-ground and aquatint prints. One of her most superior etchings, “Solicitude,” became famous.15 The etching “shows a baby seated on the lap of its adoring mother.”17 Another print from this time, “On the Balcony,” “demonstrates Cassatt’s versatility in technique.”18 Most of her paintings and etchings began to show the influence of Japanese wood block prints introduced in England. These set of woodblocks, known as Ukiyo-e, portrayed a diagonal composition that soon became prevalent in most of Cassatt’s later and most successful works. Her biggest success came from the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. At this point in her artistic career, “Cassatt was exceedingly versatile in her pastel technique: strokes ranged from short staccato horizontals to elongated diagonals while bold outline describes part of a figure which is otherwise expressed in delicate tonal modulation.”19 Cassatt was showed her diversity through a free and spontaneous look in some of her pastels, while in others she showed surprising meticulousness.  At this time, her famous canvas “The Bath” was being produced for the World’s Columbian Exchange.20 Ironically, through this event, the culturally deprived Chicago was the first of a big American city to take up impressionism as a legitimate movement of art. Through this event, Cassatt had made her impact in the American scene for art and was recognized along with a couple others to be the forefront starters of the movement of impressionism in America.

Following the footsteps of Mary Cassatt’s life, Love attempts to paint a picture in which impressionism had come into scene in the United States. By attributing Cassatt’s firm independence and her desire to be set apart from others, Love shows how Cassatt was not only a follower of impressionism, but also a revolutionist who aspired to break apart from the public norm. He also tries to emphasize that although Cassatt followed many of the French designs and composition, she remained truly American in her viewpoints.

Richard Love’s interest in art started in grade school from an inspirational art teacher. His love and desire of American art stemmed from his classes at Northwestern University where he learned of art history in Europe and how the art influenced the American art scene. He was a patriot to the United States: he made a clear definition of the differences between European art and American art, using Mary Cassatt and Thomas Whistler. He also wrote other books such as John Barber: The Artist, The Man and Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet’s Shadow all revolving around the art of America and its influences. Also during this time in the 1980s, détente took place between America and the Soviet Union, allowing simple pleasures such as art to take form. It was a time when people could finally relax from their seats of imminent nuclear war and finally eat a peaceful meal. It was this time that Love published this book, when intense patriotism was at hand for the successful negotiations of Ronald Reagan.

In recent articles, Love is regarded as a man with deep knowledge in the field of arts. In an article from the Traditional Fine Arts Organization says that “Love opened a new chapter in American art when he developed an unprecedented television program in 1976: R.H. Love on American Art, on Channel 26 in Chicago.”21 He was the one who started the craze of Impressionism in the late 1900s. He is praised not only of his close examination subtleties of the art, but also finding out the intent of the artist. His love of art is unprecedented and an avid observer. His credibility to Cassatt: The Independent is more than worthy and his information was “was widely recognized as a credit-level course for graduate and undergraduate studies.”14 The level of his studies was not for the mere individual, but for the individuals who desired to know as much as he did. His books from cover to cover not only gave information on the art that the artists painted, but also on the artist’s intent and reasoning or social protest.

In Cassatt: The Independent, the information is deep and clear – in each step of the book, there were examples to back up her styles of technique or her change in style. Starting from the beginning of her life to the end, the book covers where she grew up, her rising status as an artist, her climax, and finally what made her stop painting. It talks about the influences in her life such as the biggest – Degas – and other impressionists such as Monet, Manet, and Whistler. The book made a clear definition between the difference of French impressionism, which can be related to the painting of Degas, and American impressionism, which can be related to the painting of Mary Cassatt. Overall, it was made clear of how impressionism started in America through the footsteps of Mary Cassatt and the impact that impressionism made on not only America, but also on Mary Cassatt.

The art described in the book is art that is strictly American. Although it may have influences from France and Spain and Italy, it is still strictly American. Impressionism started in France with Courbet, but soon as it got passed down to different people, the style constantly changed. There were never two regions that had the same exact type of impressionism. In France, impressionism is described by “free flowing lines, loose brush strokes, and a palette of colors.” In America, it was described as “flowing yet controlled, the details are almost meticulous, and the emotions of the faces can be seen.”22 Impressionism wasn’t met with praise on its first debut. Instead it was rejected by many art institutions and exhibits. People refused to call an impression “art.” Rather it was an incomplete rendering of what looks to be unfinished. Finally, when Mary Cassatt came to the scene, she revolutionized the art world. People began following her footsteps and others began replicating her style.

In conclusion, Mary Cassatt was the primary pioneer of impressionism in America. Through her, the craze of not only impressionism, but art in general, started in America. America was able to sit down during the times before World War I to enjoy the simple pleasures of looking at art.

1. Love, Richard. Cassatt: The Independent. Kreines: Library of Congress Catalogue, 1980. 13.
2. Love, Richard. 20.
3. Love, Richard. 35.
4 Love, Richard. 43.
5. Love, Richard. 60.
6. Love, Richard. 63.
7. Love, Richard. 81.
8. Love, Richard. 89.
9. Love, Richard. 92.
10. Love, Richard. 110.
11. Love, Richard. 134.
12. Love, Richard.180.
13. Love, Richard. 182.
14. Love, Richard. 189.
15. Love, Richard. 191.
16. Love, Richard. 199
17. Love, Richard. 203
18. Love, Richard. 208
19. Love, Richard. 212
20. Love, Richard. 224
21. William, Peters. “Richard H. Love: Art Dealer, Author and Much More,” 2001.
22. Love, Richard. 196