I call [Mary Cassatt] my fairy godmother of my collection, for the best things I own have been bought on her judgement and advice.
—Louisine W. Havemeyer
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) is unquestionably one of the most highly recognized Impressionist artists. Celebrated, both today and during her time, she created a prolific body of work—paintings, pastel drawings, and prints— while living abroad in France, often capturing the private, domestic lives of women in this new painterly, modern, and emotive style. Cassatt’s lesser-known role came as fine arts advisor to her friends and family. For over 50 years, Cassatt expended significant energy cultivating a new market for Impressionism and securing a place for these works of art in collections across the globe. The art Cassatt helped export to America were some of the first seen by this new public. While Cassatt advised numerous collectors —from her family members to captain of industries—her good friends, Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer (1855-1929) and Henry Osborne Havemeyer (1847-1907), were her constant, primary, and most inquisitive clients.
Working together for over five decades, with “Miss Cassatt ever ready to recommend, Mr. Havemeyer to buy, and I [Mrs. Havemeyer] to find a place for the pictures in our gallery” they amassed one of the world’s greatest art collections. Today, the majority of the Havemeyer’s collection resides at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; however, many of its gems were inherited by their youngest daughter, and Shelburne Museum founder, Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960), and are now part of Shelburne Museum’s permanent collection.
Mary Cassatt’s Impressions: Assembling the Havemeyer Art Collection explores the enduring friendship between Cassatt and the Havemeyers and highlights archival anecdotes and primary sources detailing their acquisitions of Impressionist paintings, drawings, and sculptures based on Cassatt’s advice.
In 1874, at the impressionable age of 19, an enthusiastic Louisine Waldron Elder, later Havemeyer, accompanied by her two sisters, was studying abroad in Paris and attending Madame Del Sartre’s boarding school. While there, she was introduced to rising artistic star, Mary Stevenson Cassatt,11 years her senior. “When we first met in Paris, [Cassatt] was very kind to me, showing me the splendid things in the great city, making them still more splendid by opening my eyes to see their beauty through her own knowledge and appreciation,” Mrs. Havemeyer reminisced many decades later in her autobiography. “It seemed to me, no one could see art more understandingly, feel it more deeply, or express themselves more clearly than she did. She opened her heart to me about art while she showed me the great city of Paris.” With Cassatt’s tasteful eye and tap on the pulse of the Parisian art world, she guided Mrs. Havemeyer during their initial meetings to purchase modern art—works by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Edouard Manet (1832-1883), and Cassatt herself—which would inform her, and later, her husband’s collecting interests.