Review: Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman

Directed by Ali Ray, Mary Cassatt made a career painting the lives of the women around her. Her radical images showed them as intellectual, feminine and real, which was a major shift in the way women appeared in art. Presenting her astonishing prints, pastels and paintings, this film introduces us to the often-overlooked Impressionist whose own career was as full of contradiction as the women she painted.

There’s a quickly established tone to Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman, it’s a blend of informational, educational, analytical and homage. It’s moving through not just Cassatt’s work but who she was as a person and her goals in regard to equality. It takes a wide perspective of her life but at the same time, it’s dedicated to diving into her work and how her choices and styles reflected her attitudes.

Visually it keeps things simple with quiet, graceful, light and thoughtful notes. It flows nicely with a consistent tone throughout, there’s also a touch of vitality and playfulness to its atmosphere. The level of respect for what Cassatt was doing with her work and how she lived her life against the grain of social norms of the time, gives the film a brighter energy. The way that it presents her paintings also has a lot of presence to it, hesitating for the right amount of time, not quite lingering but holding a patience.

One of the questions with this sort of film is whether it still has plenty to offer even if you’re not typically an art fan? The answer is yes. It stands on its own and it is interesting in its own right, it does perhaps get a bit more academic in moments but not in any way that isn’t accessible to a wider audience. A great thing about it is that it purely has women experts, you so often see films on influential women being commented on by men, so it’s a refreshing change of pace to have her legacy explored solely by women.

Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman is both an analytical exploration of Cassatt’s style and a tribute to her dedication to equality. It has a pensive quality, it takes its time to go over different details of both her life and work. You can sense the passion in the experts involved and while it might not be for everyone as it is hitting a similar note throughout, there is a playful and wholesome tone to its portrait of a strong, talented artist.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

In cinemas nationwide on International Women’s Day, 8 March |

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