Cassatt Woman in Black at the Opera

Cassatt Woman in Black at the Opera


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Born in Pittsburgh, this American artist studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in

Philadelphia before traveling extensively throughout Europe. The daughter of an affluent businessman,

Cassatt ‘s parents were not enthused with their daughter ‘s aspirations to became an artist, preferring

instead for her to return home to marry and settle down. But the independent Cassatt made Paris her

permanent home in 1874, the year of the first Impressionist Exhibition and Cassatt ‘s first Salon

success. She met Degas in 1877 and the relationship had an immediate effect on Cassatt ‘s work.

While she employed an impressionist style and exhibited at 4 of 8 Impressionist exhibitions, her

paintings express a uniqueness of their own. Most famous for her mother and daughter paintings,

Cassatt also called upon other motifs which depicted the world around her. Access to the cafes and

corridors of her male counterparts were denied to women, yet Cassatt ‘s paintings are expressions of her

ability to circumvent these limitations and reflect another aspect of Parisian modern life. She produced

genre paintings and portraiture, and Cassatt ‘s depictions of women are ones of independent and

powerful beings. Cassatt became an important promoter of Impressionism in America. In 1914 she was

awarded the gold Metal of Honor from Pennsylvania Academy.

Opera and theatre were popular subjects for the Impressionists, often treated by Degas and Renoir, but

here Cassatt tries something different. She presents her subject in the role of viewer. A role generally

taken on by the male. Analysis of this painting centers around notions of gazing and the spectator. Like

Cassatt herself, this woman is clear sighted and determined. With the tools of sight in her hands, she

immerses herself in the activity of looking. Veins straining in her arm, she is oblivious to the spectator,

and to the man who gazes at her from the distant balcony. This painting can be compared to Renoirs

Loge (1874).

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