Impressionism was a school of painting that originated in France in the late 19th century that included famous French painters such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-August Renoir, among others. While by the 20th century the movement would not only include many Americans but also a few women, in the 1870s when the movement first began, the only American female impressionist painter was Marry Cassatt, who studied in Paris under the male impressionists mentioned above who pioneered the movement.


Impressionism is a style of painting characterized by short but visible brush strokes, a reaction to the artistic movement of Realism. The first impressionists were the realist painters Manet, Monet, Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, who sought to depict scenes not as they were but as they were perceived by the artists, or in other words by the impressions the scenes made on the artists. The movement was at first disdained by critics, but gradually gained favor.

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was one of the first American impressionists. Born in Pittsburgh in 1844, she first traveled to Paris in 1866 to learn painting privately from various masters. She would return to Paris in 1871 when she befriended impressionist painter and sculptor Degas, who introduced her to the small impressionist group. With their help and influence, Cassatt was able to develop her style of painting and earn substantial fame as one of the foremost painters of the time.

Other Female Impressionists

Cassatt was not the only female impressionist. Berthe Morisot was a member of the impressionist circle that Cassat joined in 1871 and had been introduced to the group through her friendship with Manet, who would later become her brother-in-law. Morisot and and Cassatt were close friends. The other major female impressionist in their circle was Marie Bracquemond, who joined the group in 1887.

Later Americans

Though Cassatt was the first major American impressionist, she was soon joined by many others, part of a larger movement known as American Impressionism. By the 1880s, after the works of Cassatt and the French impressionists had been exhibited in the U.S., many American painters began to adopt their techniques. By the 20th century, American impressionism would be a major artistic movement, with several female painters among its ranks.

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