Sunday, November 6, 2016

1841-1895: Berthe Morisot, French

Berthe Morisot was the greatest woman painter in France in the 1800s. She was one of the most active and committed of Impressionist painters, and one of the four famous women in that movement. For a brief period, she was more acclaimed than Monet or Renoir.

Although Berthe produced many landscapes, her principal subject was domestic life and portraits of family and friends. Her most enduring paintings are dreamy portraits of women and girls in interior settings.

Background: Berthe was born in Bourges, France, into an affluent bourgeois family. Her father was was a senior government official. Her mother was the great-niece of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, one of the most important painters of the Rococo period. She had 2 sisters and a brother. The family moved to Paris when Berthe was a child.

Training: Berthe and her sister Edma received private art training from local artists. When she was 16, they began copying paintings at the Louvre gallery.

In 1860, Berthe and Edma became pupils of Camille Corot, an important landscape painter, now elderly. It was through him that they began working outdoors.

Career: Berthe first began exhibiting at the Salon, which favored academic and realistic work. She submitted 2 landscape paintings in 1864 when she was 23. She continued to paint realistically and to exhibit at the Salon for 7 years.

In 1867 met artist Édouard Manet, one of the greatest artists of the century, while they were both copying paintings at the Louvre. She was 26 years old; he was 35, and married. Berthe was considered a stunning beauty for her dark eyes and chiseled features. Manet used her as a model for 12 portraits. Clearly he was fascinated by her, and she wrote in letters to her sisters that she longed for a more intimate relationship with him.

In addition to their relationship as artist and model, Berthe and Édouard were also fellow artists who supported each other's work. For a long time Manet was considered Berthe's mentor, but now it is known that they learned from each other, and she is known for persuading him to try painting outdoors, as she had been taught by Corot.

Manet suggested that she marry his younger brother Eugène so that they could remain close, and that's the way it turned out. Berthe and Eugene married when she was 33.

Eugène Manet was one of the good guys of art history. He was a painter himself, but he was less successful than Berthe, and he devoted much of his effort to supporting her career. Berthe and Eugène had one daughter, Julie.

Through her association with the Manets, Berthe became acquainted with a group of artists, including Monet and Renoir, who were challenging the norms of academic realism, and became one of the pioneers of the movement that became known as Impressionism. It was daring of her to join forces with them, because she already had a reputation as a promising painter in the dominant realistic mode, and also because Manet had advised her against it. She was in every Impressionist show, except the year her daughter was born, 1877.

Berthe focused on domestic life and portraits of family and friends, rendered in a very loose style. Morisot's style is so unassertive that it is difficult to appreciate. She used the Impressionist's small, broken brushstrokes along with a pale, low-contrast palette in such a way that the lovely young women she depicted tended to de-materialize into the setting, like part of the decoration. Later, she developed a longer, smoother brushstroke that defined forms more firmly.

The family finances were sufficiently healthy for her not to depend on the art market for support, and, at the time of her death, most of her work remained in her studio. In 1993 Julie's son donated a large group of Berthe's works to the Musée Marmottan Monet, and another a few years later, another grandson added a few more works, and some of Berthe's furnishings. The museum now holds 81 works by Morisot.

Our photos of Berthe's work:

The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869
National Gallery / Jan's photo, 2014

The Sisters, 1869
National Gallery
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006

The Mother and Sister of the Artist, 1870
National Gallery / Jan's photo, 2010

The Cradle, 1872
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Musée D'Orsay, 2015

Young Woman Powdering Herself, 1877
Orsay / Jan's photo, 2015

Young Girl in Ball Gown, 1879
Orsay / Jan's photo, 2015

Young Woman Seated on a Sofa, c. 1879
Metropolitan / Jan's photo, 2015

Woman at her Toilette, 1880
Chicago / Jan's photo, 2010

Woman in a Garden, 1883
Chicago / Jan's photo, 2010

Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1890
Seattle / Jan's photo, 2014

Young Girl with Basket, 1892
Philadelphia / Jan's photo, 2012

Two Girls, 1894
Phillips Collection
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006

Internet examples:


Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight, 1875
Musée Marmottan Monet / Internet

Hanging the Laundry out to Dry, 1875
National Gallery, D.C. / Internet

Eugene Manet With His Daughter At Bougival, c. 1881
Musée Marmottan Monet / Internet

The Artist's Daughter Julie with her Nanny, c. 1884
Minneapolis / Internet

Reclining Nude Shepardess, 1891 (artist age 50)
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza / Internet

While the painting style shows the influence of Renoir's nudes of the period, the pose is considered unique, and shows that Berthe was still innovating late in her career.