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Berthe Morisot (1841 - 1895)





Berthe Morisot


Birth name Berthe Morisot

Born January 14, 1841, Bourges, France

Died March 2, 1895, Paris, France

Nationality French

Movement Impressionism



Paul Valery who had married a niece of Berthe Morisot, gives an excellent account of this artist and her Impressionist background in the introduction he wrote to the catalogue for a Retrospective exhibition of her works held at the Orangerie in 1941. 'The special characteristic of Berthe Morisot was the way she lived her pain ting and pain ted her life, as if a continual exchange between observation and action, creative energy and light were a necessary natural function simply depending on her ordinary way ofliving. She would take up and leave her brushes and resume them in the same way as thoughts come into our mind and wander off and then come back again. This gives her work its special charm, with its very close, almost indissoluble relationship between the artist's ideal and the intimate quality of her life. Her sketches and paintings follow the course of her life very closely, and we see her first as a girl, then as a wife and mother. Her paintings taken all together remind one of what a woman's diary would be like if she expressed herself in colour and design instead of in writing.'
Berthe Morisot's work is indeed the 'Diary in paint' of a woman recording her own life and what goes on round her. However, from the stylistic point of view, there is definite development. Her early works were traditionalist, painted very much under the influence of Corot. Her technique became much freer after she had met Edouard Manet; her colours became lighter, and generally more 'Impressionist' after she joined their group, and Renoir particularly had a great influence on her work. Her father was a high-ranking Civil Servant, and the family were a good deal urprised when Berthe persuaded her sister to take up painting as well. In 1857 the two girls asked the painter Guichart for his advice, and in 1860 he introduced Berthe to Corot who had a great influence on her development. During these years she studied at the Louvre; there she met Fantin-Latour and the engraver Bracquemond, and at the same time she was practising open-air painting. Jongkind encouraged her to attempt landscapes and watercolours as well. Her sister Edma gave up painting in 1868, when she married a naval officer called Pontillon. Berthe Morisot painted her first landscapes in 1863 at Auvers-sur-Oise, and two of them were accepted for the 1864 Salon. Corot's influence was evident in all her early work (Lorien Harbour, 1869). Berthe met Edouard Manet in 1868; she married Manet's brother Eugene in 1874, and was Manet's model for The Balcony. Under his influence she began experimenting with figure and portrait painting (Portrait qf Madame Pontillon, the artist's sister, pastel, 1871; The Cradle, 1873; Catching butterflies, 1873, all three in the Jeu de Paume Museum), and also met the Impressionists. Soon after, she joined their group and sent pictures to almost all their exhibitions, starting with the first celebrated one in Nadar's studio in 1874, up to 1886, when her work met with a particularly unfavourable reception from the critics. In 1875 she went to England and stayed at Ramsgate and in the Isle of Wight where she painted a number of seascapes. However she really preferred scenes of modern and especially family life, as Manet had first suggested, and was attracted towards subjects with figures, either singly or in groups. Meanwhile her manner and technique became increasingy Impressionist: L'Enfant dans les iles (1875), Woman at her toilet (1879), Question at the looking-glass (1876), Eugene Manet and his daughter at  Bougival (1881), Young woman sewing in a garden (1881), Little girl with a doll, after Julie Manet (1884) . Berthe Morisot went abroad several times, to Italy (1882), Belgium and Holland (1885) and Jersey (1888). She usually spent her winters at Nice and the summer at Mezy near Meulan, where she worked with Renoir; his influence on her work after 1880 is very marked. Typical examples of this period are: The Cherry tree (1891) , Hay-making at Mezy (1891) , The Music lesson (I892) where the model was Lucie Leon, the pianist at the 'Concerts bleus'; Girl with a fan (1893) painted in the Rue Weber with Jeanne Fourmernoir as model; In the Bois de Boulogne (1893), The Violin lesson (1893) painted in the Rue Weber, with Julie Manet as model; in the background can be seen Manet's portrait of Isabelle Lemonnier; Julie Manet in white (1894) and Gabriel Thomas' children (1894) both painted in the Rue Weber. An important exhibition of her work was held from 25 May to 18 June 1892 in the Boussod-Valadon Gallery, with forty-three exhibits. In the following year, 1893, at the end of August and beginning of September, she went to Valvins to see Mallarme who was a great admirer of her work. In 1894 she visited Brussels and exhibited at the Libre esthetique. In 1896, a year after her death, there was a big posthumous exhibition at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. The exhibits consisted of 191 oil paintings, 61 pastels, 73 watercolours and 64 drawings as well as two pieces of sculpture. Mallarme, in the introduction he wrote to the exhibition catalogue, called her 'a magician whose work, in the opinion of several important artists she was closely associated with in their struggle to get Impressionism recognised, is quite as good as any of theirs. Her delightful work forms an integral part of the art history of the period.'


Based on Phaidon encyclopedia of Impressionism, Maurice Serullaz, Phaidon, 1978


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