Alexander Johnston Cassatt was an engineer and collector. He was the son of a Pittsburgh banker and was brought up in a cultured environment. His younger sister Mary Stevenson Cassatt became a leading painter and printmaker in the Impressionist circle in Paris.
In 1868 Alexander Cassatt married Lois Buchanan, the niece of James Buchanan, the fifteenth President of the United States, and, on her mother's side, the niece of Stephen Foster the American songwriter & composer.
On 3 April 1883 Alexander and Lois Cassatt approached Whistler about painting the latter's portrait, although Mary Cassatt had initially recommended Renoir. Whistler, whom Lois Cassatt described as 'most polite & most curious looking', arranged to start the following day. Whistler suggested Lois pose in riding habit, although she would have preferred evening dress (#11811). Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt (YMSM 250) was painted at 13 Tite Street, Chelsea. JW had to work in a hurry as the Cassatts had to return to Philadelphia at the end of April 1883. Lois Cassatt told the Pennells in June 1919, 'We spent every morning from 11-1 in the studio... It was an ordeal for me as you can imagine standing so long, but the time passed pleasantly and quickly... [once] from something I said Whistler took it that I did not consider it a likeness, nor do I, but he replied, 'After all it's a Whistler''. JW himself later admitted 'it is not a striking likeness' (#09014). According to Pennell, Cassatt paid for the portrait before leaving for America in April 1883. However, it was not finished and sent off until 1886/87.
JW gave The Chelsea Girl (YMSM 314), described by the Whitehall Review as a portrait of 'a veritable daughter of the people, with all the defiance of an offspring of the prolétaire in her attitude', to Alexander Cassatt as a present on the delivery of Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt (YMSM 250) in 1886/87. It was a work which JW claimed was painted in one afternoon. Cassatt's son Edward inherited both Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt (YMSM 250) and The Chelsea Girl (YMSM 314).
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Who Was Who: A Companion to Who's Who, vol. 1, 1897/1915, London, 1920-21; Sweet, Frederick A., Miss Mary Cassatt: Impressionist from Pennsylvania, Norman, 1966; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Matthews, N. M. (ed.), Cassatt and her Circle: Selected Letters, New York, 1984; Matthews, N. M., Mary Cassatt: A Life, New York, 1994.