Project Description


(1978) (RT :30)
Series: The Originals: Women in Art
(Produced and Directed by Perry Miller Adato)

This documentary portrait is the first to celebrate the only American member of the French Impressionist school and the first American woman to become a famous painter. Mary Cassatt Impressionist From Philadephia is not only a biography of the artist’s life and work; the film sees both in the context of the status of the woman painter in Victorian America in the second half of the nineteen century. In that era, it took great independence and courage for a 22 year old woman to defy convention and the strong objections of her prominent Philadelphia family to go to Paris to study and to devote her life to art.

Cassatt knew that if she wanted to be an artist, she must go to Paris; women artists were not taken seriously in America. They were restricted from many of the opportunities open to male artists and, most important to both sexes, the great American museums and their magnificent art collections had not yet been founded. The great masters were not available for study and inspiration.

Cassatt’s story is told through lively dramatic use of actors’ voice-overs, speaking the words of Cassatt herself and those of artist Edgar Degas, close friend and major influence with whom she had a unique, life-long collegial relationship, as well as quotes by Pissaro, Gauguin and other contemporaries. Also heard voice-over are personal comments by a niece and by her Philadelphia parents who would join her in Paris; these express their patronizing, conventional view of the woman artist. Her beloved sister Lydia, an exception, was the subject of some of her finest work.

Adelyn Breeskin, the first woman to become Director of a major museum, (The Baltimore Museum of Art), is the acknowledged expert on the life and work of Mary Cassatt.  On-camera Breeskin shares her sensitive understanding of Mary Cassatt the woman, and gives her penetrating analysis of the artist’s achievement. Throughout the film, beautifully filmed examples of Cassatt’s finest paintings, including her famed mother and child studies and her acclaimed innovative prints, flood the screen.


“Mary Cassatt – Impressionist from Philadelphia, produced and directed by Perry Miller Adato, initiates a short series on Women in Art. With Mrs. Adato as executive producer, succeeding programs will include portraits of Louise Nevelson, Bettye Saar, Alice Neel, Helen Frankenthaler and, in a repeat showing, Georgia O’Keeffe.
…The viewer is given a reasonably comprehensible outline of Cassatt’s career-of her leaving an elite Philadelphia family to work in Paris, of her close relationship with Degas, of her development into a widely admired and praised artist.

…Voice-over “dramatizations,” presenting Cassatt by herself or in conversation with others, provide most of the key insights. On conformity, she says: “Acceptance on someone’s else’s terms is worse than rejection.” Or on the controversial Impressionists: “My own work began to reflect more and more my agreement with their aims.”

…Women In Art… is necessary, worthwhile and welcome.”
–Grace Glueck, New York Times

“A film portrait of Mary Cassatt (1845- 1926), acknowledged as one of the greatest American artists of the 19th century. Cassatt was the only American member of the French Impressionist group, exhibiting with Manet, Renoir, Monet, Degas and others. She was instrumental in making these artists known in the United States. This film recreates Cassatt’s life and times, her struggle against American indifference to art and artists, particularly women artists, her years in Paris, the important role Degas played in her life, the relationship between her art and her life, and the influence of her family (socially elite Philadelphians). The extraordinary variety and originality of her art is revealed in numerous works- paintings, drawings, dry-points and aquatints- selected from major collections.”
– Montreal International Festival of Film on Art



Director: Perry Miller Adato
Producer: Perry Miller Adato
Associate Producer: Judith Verhagen
Writer: Dorothy Monet
Editor: Nina Schulman
Assistant Editor: Carol Hayward
Consultant: Adelyn D. Breeskin
Camera Animation: John Anthes, Film Planning Associates, Comcorps
Camera: Tom Spain, Jean Monsigny, Chuck Clifton
Sound: Richard Blofson, Bernard Ortion
Music Supervisor: John Adams
Research: Shelley Kirk
Production Assistants: Sydney Rubin, Patricia Rout
Mary Cassatt: Leora Dana
Degas: Guy Sorel
Women’s Voices: Mary Jane Higby
Men’s Voices: William Redfield

Adelyn D. Breeskin, Curator National Collection of Fine Arts Wash., DC
Anne Dayez, Curator Impressionist Collection, Louvre, Paris France
and Niece of Mary Cassatt

Special Thanks to:
Frederick A. Sweet
Nancy Hale
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Art Institute of Chicago
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
New York Public Library, Prints Division and Picture Collection
Ambassador and Mrs. Walter Annenberg
Armand Hammer Foundation
Chicago Historical Society
Chrysler Museum at Norfolk
Cleveland Museum of Art
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Detroit Institute of Arts
Doubleday and Company Inc.
Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University
Flint Michigan Museum
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
Forbes Magazine Collection
French Cultural Services
George Braziller Inc.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Joslyn Art Museum
Kennedy Gallery
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Maxwell Galleries
Montclair Art Museum
Museum of Modern Art
New Britain Museum of American Art
New Orleans Museum of Art
Norton Simon Foundation
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Scale Fine Arts, Publishers, Inc.
Shelburne Museum, Shelbourne Vermont
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Williamstown, Mass.
Witchita Art Museum
Worcester Art Museum

A production of WNET/13
©1975 Educational Broadcasting Corporation

Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Inc.