Film Series Showcases Groundbreaking Impressionist Mary Cassatt | Visual Art | Seven Days

click to enlarge "Louisine Havemeyer and Her Daughter Electra" by Mary Cassatt - COURTESY OF SHELBURNE MUSEUM

  • Courtesy Of Shelburne Museum
  • “Louisine Havemeyer and Her Daughter Electra” by Mary Cassatt

Impressionist art reached the U.S. in the last quarter of the 19th century largely because of two women: painter Mary Cassatt and her friend Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer, 11 years her junior. The two Americans met in Paris in 1873 when Louisine was 17; Cassatt soon encouraged the teenager to buy a pastel by Edgar Degas. That was his first sale to an American, and it became the first impressionist work shown in the U.S.

Later, Louisine married sugar magnate H.O. Havemeyer, and the couple, under Cassatt’s guidance, amassed an important collection of impressionist paintings and other works that is now mostly held in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Cassatt’s radicalism extended beyond her eye for her colleagues’ unconventional art. Her own paintings and prints often featured women and children thinking and acting in ways never before portrayed in art, and she was integral to the American suffragette movement. The artist’s modernism is the subject of the film Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman, which will be screened on Wednesday, October 18, as part of the free Architecture + Design Film Series.

Under the umbrella of Burlington City Arts and held in Burlington and Brattleboro, the series opened its 11th season this fall with a film about the typeface Helvetica. Upcoming screenings include documentaries about New England architectural modernism and the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

Organizers Lynda Reeves McIntyre, Andrew Chardain and Karen Frost find local tie-ins for the films whenever possible. For Cassatt, they invited Shelburne Museum curator Carolyn Bauer to give a 10-minute talk in Burlington ahead of the film.

Bauer is no stranger to handling impressionist works: Shelburne Museum holds a stunning selection of them, including two pastels and two prints by Cassatt. One reason for the riches is that Cassatt also advised Louisine’s daughter, Electra Havemeyer Webb, who married one of Shelburne Farms owner Eliza Vanderbilt Webb’s four children and founded Shelburne Museum.

Bauer also researched and delivered two webinars during the pandemic on Cassatt and Louisine’s friendship, which are still viewable on the museum website: “A Militant Suffragist: The Story of Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer’s Role in the Women’s Suffrage Movement” and “Mary Cassatt’s Impressions: Assembling the Havemeyer Collection.” The latter accompanies an online exhibition Bauer organized and includes input from art historian Nancy Mowll Mathews, who is also interviewed in the Cassatt film.

Reached by phone, Bauer said with a chuckle that she would begin reducing years of research to a 10-minute talk later that day. The film, which she has seen, presents “no new research, but the scholars have brilliant insight and it’s visually gorgeous,” she said.

For Frost, Cassatt was a must in the trio’s democratically determined lineup.

“Cassatt is someone we think we know — Oh, she painted women and children — but her life was extraordinary,” Frost said during a phone call. “There were no role models for women artists in her day. And impressionism was foundering in Europe when she brought it to this country, so she really helped out the artists.”

Bauer added, “Hopefully, after seeing the film, people can hop down the road to Shelburne and see the works in person.” (The museum is open through October 22.)

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