Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania.
In 1861 she began to study painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts in Philadelphia, but proclaimed her independence by leaving in
1866 to paint in France. By 1872, after studying in the major museums of
Europe, her style began to mature, and she settled in Paris. There her
work attracted the attention of the French painter Edgar Degas, who invited
her to exhibit with his fellow impressionists. One of the works she showed
was The Cup of Tea (1879, Metropolitan Museum, New York City), a portrait
of her sister Lydia in luminescent pinks. Beginning in 1882 Cassatt's style
took a new turn. Influenced, like Degas, by Japanese woodcuts, she began
to emphasize line over mass and experimented with asymmetric composition—as
in The Boating Party (1893, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.)—and informal,
natural gestures and positions. Portrayals of mothers and children in intimate
relationship and domestic settings became her theme. Her portraits were
not commissioned; instead, she used members of her own family as subjects.
France awarded Cassatt the Legion of Honor in 1904;
although she had been instrumental in advising the first American collectors
of impressionist works, recognition came more slowly in the United States.
With loss of sight she was no longer able to paint after 1914.