The social role and stature of women has been an eternal topic. In an age when the images of women were expected to be associated with marriage, motherhood, and domestic matters, few Americans could have thought of a young woman from an upper-middle class family would pursue professional study of art in Europe in the late nineteenth century. Yet, praises and critics both fall on the young artist, Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926). In this paper, I will show how two historians contrast about the their views of this feminine artist, as well as their methodological approaches.
The first one is from Susan Fillin Yeh. In her article “Mary Cassatt’s Images of Woman,” she argues that, Cassatt’s images of women, unique within the context of Impressionism, challenging the male standards (marriage, motherhood, and domestic matters), include representations of women as independent public people: women could pursue interests that are not directed toward the needs of others, such as needs of husbands and families; and also, women could enjoy the company of other women, rather than be some kind of “possession” of men. Cassatt defined her world through women, by which her art offers a new vision of the unconsidered facts of everyday bourgeois life. She also challenge stereotypes, in her oeuvre of figures who are oblivious to the outside world, the mothers and children, who depart from convention in their mutual absorption, because she acknowledges the strong emotions which are the human dynamics of the relationship.
The article introduces several categories of Cassatt’s paintings, all dominated by female figures. In the paintings of scene of theaters, she created the image of women who have their own interests not dominated by others’ opinions. Rather than present only as a sight for the enjoyment of others, the image departs from the convention, illustrating that women should no longer be considered as objects, but could have their free wills and their own enjoyment. Pictures of Cassatt’s mother and sister in domestic interiors constitute the second major innovative image, in which the reading figures represent studies of mental activity in which Cassatt’s depiction of the body is a visual metaphor for the mind. Another major innovative theme is the friendships between women. Through the companionship of other women, the relationship that women could own is enriched from the traditional cognition which defines women’s relationship only to men. At last, the final theme of Cassatt’s painting is mother and child. The happiness and joy easily seen in those paintings between a mother and her child illustrate the emotional needs of a mother apart from the conventional views that see only the responsibility of motherhood.
Yeh develops her argument mainly based on the content of Cassatt’s art. She states in the beginning, “Cassatt critics in particular have overlooked the content of her art, not only because of blind spots about the politics of gender but also because as...