30 January 2024

Berthe Morisot: Things You Can't See In A Painting

(T)here is only one true Impressionist in the whole revolutionary group - and that is Mlle Berthe Morisot." - Paul Mantz, 1877 

When the Barnes Foundation organized their Berthe Morisot retrospective in 2018, they called it "Morisot: Woman Impressionist." Cue the Greek chorus. But that moniker obscures as much as it reveals. Morisot felt no impulse to eroticize her female subjects as male artists did; she foregrounded their subjectivity, their interior focus. She was able to reveal the life of women as she had experienced it herself. After her death in 1895, Morisot's star faded and, with it, her critical reputation. Almost a century would pass before Tamar Garb and Kathleen Adler addressed her erasure from Impressionist history.

Scumble: to soften or blend an outline with a thin wash. Morisot's paintings were praised for their luminous quality, a technique she adapted from the her work with Corot who taught her to paint outdoors. Kept out of traditional (male) art classes, young Berthe was tutored at home.

On the advice of Pissarro, in 1858, Manet, Degas, and Morisot applied to the Copyists' Office at the Louvre for permission to set up their easels in the galleries. By 1864, Morisot's paintings were hanging in the Salon de Paris.

Unlike her friends,  Berthe Morisot did not have to soften her experimental inclinations to suit the tastes of potential patrons; her bourgeois background provided Morisot with economic security. On the other hand, she did not share their freedom to go on painting expeditions to the country in search of interesting subjects or spend her evenings soaking in the ambience of urban cafes. Fortunately, her family welcomed her unconventional friends into their home, so long as the young men were presentable.

Morisot's mother was the great niece of the great 18th century painter Fragonard. In her work the lilacs and the grays become gestural scratches that are halfway to abstraction.

The young woman with long red hair was Berthe Morisot's daughter, and frequent model, Julie Manet.

Berthe Morisot - Two Girls, 1894, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.
Berthe Morisot - Self- Portrait, 1885, oil on canvas, Musee Marmottan Manet, Paris.


Hels said...

Modern Woman: Daughters and Lovers, an exhibition of drawings from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, was a 2012 exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane. The famous French artists who celebrated the changing roles of women during the Belle Époque included Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Vuillard, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Bonnard and Auguste Rodin, as you would expect.

It is not coincidental that so few women artists are represented in the Modern Woman exhibition. Since the Ecole des Beaux-Arts did not admit women until 1897, all the female art students in Paris had to find an alternative, less prestigious school that would accept them. Or, if their families had plenty of money, some women students were able to study privately with an established male artist. Fortunately Académie Julian, founded by Rodolphe Julian in 1868, accepted women; but even there the male students and female students were trained separately.

But what happened to woman artists like Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot? If their work was much admired by contemporary artists and critics, did their reputations fade?


Jane A. Librizzi said...

Hels, thank you for bringing up Academie Julian.

At least we have Manet's paintings of Morisot to remind us of her existence.

Eva Gonzalas, who died in her, is another neglected artist.

Tania said...

Fortunately the XXIth century has seen very beautiful retrospectives that gave her back her place in the impressionist movement : Lille, Martigny (2002), Paris (2012, 2019). Berthe Morisot is truly a beautiful artist !

Jane A. Librizzi said...

Tania, thanks for this information.
How sad that people often see only what they want to see.

Classical music blog -Sokwon Kim said...

Hi, Jane. Welcome. Thank you for your picture, blog, and works. Have a good week.

Jane A. Librizzi said...

Thanks for your kind words,Sokwon Kim.