An Ongoing Study of the Shelburne Museum by the Students of Saint Michaels College
Buildings Topics Collections

The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building   

The Influences Behind the Shelburne Museum


The Electra Havmeyer Webb Memorial Building

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Louisine Elder Havemeyer

Mary Cassatt

Harry Havmeyer

J. Watson Webb



Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was born to Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Cassatt. Mr. Cassatt provided a comfortable lifestyle for his family as a wealthy merchant. The family lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until 1851 (Mary Cassatt 1844-1926) when Mary and her two older siblings moved with their parents to Europe until 1858. During this time they lived in Paris, France and two cities in Germany, Heidelberg and Darmstat. Mary was exposed to the art world early in life by this experience. The family then traveled back to their home in Philadelphia in 1858.


Mary enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861 where she remained until graduation in 1865. She and her mother traveled to Paris where Mary studied art and practiced while in France. Mary was  forced to leave during the Franco -Prussian war of 1870.

When she returned to Europe in 1872 she studied in Parma, Italy with Emily Sartain.It was said in Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman, that the two became close friends as they studied art and mastered their craft as painters. While in Parma she painted On the Balcony which became her first submission to the Parisian Salon. The following year, she left her friend, studied in Seville, and then traveled to Belgium and Holland. Cassatt next moved back to Paris where she purchased property and reunited with friend Emily Sartain (Mary Cassatt 1844-1926) who also lived in Paris at the time, where she boarded in a house with Louisine Elder.

Mary Cassatt

Self Portrait


Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

It was in 1874 that Mary Cassatt and Louisine Elder became friends. Mary had several connections among professional and notable painters.  She was well acquainted with Degas, to the point that art historians speculate whether they had an intimate relationship. Louisine notes in her memoirs about conversations she and Mary had about Degas. Degas was known to have an ego and Louisine noted in  Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a collector  she once asked  Mary "How do you get on with him?" Mary responded "Oh, I am an independent! I can live alone and I love to work. Sometimes it made him furious that he could not find a chink in my armour, and there would be months when we just could not see each other, and then something I painted would bring us together again...but [he was] magnificent!" Degas went on to invite Cassatt to the circle of peers (Mary Cassatt 1844-1926) comprising the Impressionist movement, included Monet, Manet and Courbet.

Mary Cassatt's and Lousine's friendship yielded a powerful team of art collecters. Cassatt's connections to professional artists and advice on purchases guided Louisine. Most significantly though was the "gate" Cassatt and Louisine's friendship ultimately created between European artists and wealthy collectors in the United States. Louisine deserves credit for popularizing European art into the phenomenon it has become for American art collectors to this day.  Louisine herself was an avid and wealthy art collector. Though they were parted for years when Louisine moved back to the United States where she married and had a family, she and Mary remained in close contact at all times Louisine wrote in her memoirs, conspiring about art work for potential purchase. Louisine's marriage was advantageous for Mary as well. Louisine's husband Harry was also a wealthy collector, in contact with the famous art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who allowed Mary Cassatt to exhibit in his galleries and thus enhanced her recognition as an impressionist painter.

 Mary Cassatt c.1923
 Photo:  The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America

Cassatt returned to the United states in 1898 where she met the Havemeyer family and came in contact with young Electra Havemeyer. She returned to Europe where she had ambitiously developed her career as an artist, becoming internationally famous for her magnificent artwork. Her last visit to America was in 1908, and soon after she traveled to Egypt with her brother. In 1912, Mary suffered from serious emotional instability and also had surgery for cataracts. In 1914, she was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor by the Pennsylvania Academy when at the same time it was noted in Mary Cassatt 1844-1926  that she was forced to stop painting because of her blindness. Mary Cassatt died in 1926 as a legend in the Impressionist movement and the history of American collecting.

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