National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Mary Cassatt, Auguste Renoir

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Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many French painters turned their attention to scenes of modern life: Parisians enjoying themselves in the countryside, streets crowded with traffic and pedestrians, performers and habitués of the city's theaters and café-bars. For the two artists featured here, Mary Cassatt and Auguste Renoir, images from the lives of women and children, especially, provided lifelong inspiration.

Mary Cassatt, born to a wealthy Pennsylvania family, chose a life very different from most of her contemporaries. At the age of twenty-two she left home to study painting in France, returning to the United States only for brief periods thereafter. Both her choice of career and her success at it were unusual. In some of her paintings of young women we detect the same forthright determination with which she herself was often described. Cassatt was the only American to participate in the impressionist group exhibitions, yet she, like her friend Edgar Degas, was never comfortable with that label. Her own work, rather than relying on the spontaneity of impressionism, was based on careful drawing and rigorous composition.

Perhaps more than the work of any other artist, Renoir's sunlit scenes reflect the joie de vivre that is so appealing in impressionist painting. Yet, by all accounts, he was a diligent student, and more ready than his colleagues to learn from art of the past. This led him to experiment. Diana calls on Salon convention and the realist style of Courbet, while Odalisque is redolent of Delacroix's exotic subjects and free technique. In Girl with a Watering Can we find Renoir the impressionist, but in later pictures, such as Girl with a Hoop, his paintings have a more monumental quality.

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