McCullough ends his 500 page book with an excerpt about Mary Cassatt. She never married and became one of the first Impressionist female American artists. Her painting depicts all the tranquility and docility of being a women in French society from motherhood to reading the La Figaro, the local newspaper. Her paintings of women and children are usually in soft Parisian pastels. But Cassatt was anything other than docile, quiet and calm, herself. Her father, Robert Cassatt, who was well off enough not to have to return to any kind of gainful employment exploded when his daughter insisted that she wanted to study art. He said he would rather that she were dead than do such a thing. However, she persisted and she became not only “a woman who paints”, but a professional artist. One passage describes her as adamant and abrasive about becoming an artist regardless if it meant giving up marriage and having a family of her own. Her physical description was that she was tall for woman, having a sharp chin, a strong intelligent face with a slender figure and perfect carriage. She wore well-tailored ensembles and showed no trace of “negligee” or carelessness which other painter’s could affect.
“Once having seen her, you could never forget her – from her remarkable small foot to the plumed hat with its inevitable tip upon her face and the Brussels lace veil without which she was never seen. She spoke with energy, and you would as soon forget her remarks when she conversed as to forget the motion of her hands.”
Louisine Elder was enthralled by all that the vibrant Miss Cassatt had seen and accomplished; the places she had been, and wondered how she even summoned the courage to go off to Italy and Spain. She took her friend to the theater and the opera, and was cherished by her as the most intelligent person she had ever met and cherished every word she uttered. The threshold of their 50 year friendship with far reaching consequences attests to the strength of her character and personality. Any friendship is said to have gone on the rocks. Emily Sartain, described Mary Cassatt as strong-willed and dictatorial and that she had become too much for her to bear. There had been a dispute about some unknown matter and bitter feelings resulted. Sartain described her to her father as a tremendous talker and very touchy and selfish, and was quoted as saying to father, “if you hear her talking of me, as she has done lately, you will know the origin of it all. I shall never become intimate with her again.” Emily Sartain had a long and distinguished career in Philadelphia where she taught at the School of Design for Women.
For anyone who wants to have a closer look at Napoleonic France, the Greater Journey will uncover some secrets into the French culture and David McCullough is a recognized writer of biographies and has won not only the Pulitzer prize twice for Truman and john Adams, but has also ben awarded the highest civilian award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom. McCullough was recently interviewed on “60 Minutes” and his passion for his writing is evident from his small writing cottage at home with a manual typewriter where he composes his drafts and manuscripts on through to his frequent lectures here and abroad. He wants very much to share his enthusiasm for American history through the eyeglasses of their personal lives and idiosyncrasies exposing multidimensional characters that are not just names at certain times in certain locations. He rightly expounds that America’s youth is historically illiterate meaning that they do not know, and thus do not score well on basic U.S. History exams. That is a travesty in America which is considered the greatest nation on earth. Other countries excel in Math and Science, and in our own knowledge of history, this great scholar portends that we as a nation are illiterate. If you are repelled by history because of the dry, voluminous text that you were given in school, buy or check out any of David McCullough’s books from your neighborhood library. I can assure you, you will not be bored wit history anymore.
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