Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, into an upper-class family. She started studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts when she was 15 years old. Although her parents did not want her to become a professional artist, they allowed her to continue her studies in Europe. In 1874, she moved to Paris permanently.
In Paris, Mary Cassatt befriended the famous French painter, Edgar Degas. Degas was part of a group of painters known as the Impressionists. He invited Cassatt to join and exhibit her work with the group. She was the only American member of the Impressionists. The Impressionists were famous for depicting modern life in their art, using short brush strokes, bright colors, and bold depictions of light.
As an artist, Mary Cassatt focused on the different roles of modern middle- and upper-class women, particularly in their private and social lives. She provided a unique perspective as a female artist in a predominantly male world. Her works portrayed women’s private lives, making visible the intimate work women performed in the home.
The paintings The Caress and The Boating Party depict women as wives and mothers. The bond between mothers and children was a popular theme in Mary’s work. She painted women in their domestic roles as dictated by society. Though, at the same time, she did not conform to this expectation as a working woman painter. In her self-portrait, she shows herself as a professional artist. In addition to not fulfilling the domestic ideal in her own life as a working artist, Mary appreciated that this ideal was out of reach for most working-class women, who had to provide for their families.