Berthe Morisot and the art of feminine subtlety and charm

Amongst the women painters in modern history, Berthe Morisot achieved a distinction equalled only by that of Mary Cassatt. Her gifts did not at once receive public recognition, but in recent years they have won more and more appreciation. She was an interesting person. Degas once said of her that she painted pictures as she made bonnets – a suggestion of the femininely instinctive and impulsive action of her talent. One source of her strength, however, was the thoroughness of her training. Her father, an official at Bourges, saw that his daughter’s tastes were genuine, and made it easy for her to develop her faculties. She and her sister Edma were sent for instruction to Paris.

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Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872. Oil on canvas, 56 x 46 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Edma Morisot abandoned painting when she married, but Berthe continued to work with the brush, exhibiting at the Salon. It was while she was making copies from old masters in the Louvre that she first came to know Edouard Manet. Later, Berthe became intimate with the great impressionist, modifying her style in the light of his example and developing the broad, vivid qualities for which her works are loved today. In 1874 she married Eugene Manet. Manet 1870 Repose (Portrait of Berthe Morisot), is a remarkable psychological study of a young woman. Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, and Monet frequented her house. She continued to paint, signing her pictures with the name by which she is still remembered in artistic annals. Her rank as an artist was obscured by her position as a woman of the world. She was not, it is true, a creative artist. It may even be said that she would not have made the progress that is shown in her best works, would not have given them their special character, if Manet had not been there to help her to form her style.

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Berthe Morisot, Woman and Child on a Balcony, 1871-1872. Private collection.

Yet upon the groundwork that she owed to her contact with Manet she superimposed qualities of her own. There is a delicate fragrance about her art, a certain feminine subtlety and charm, through which she proved herself an individualised painter. Berthe worked a lot in Normandy, especially around Fécamp; the landscape of this area remained her preferred motif. It was one of the things that drew her closer to the future Impressionists. Berthe’s other motif was Paris. In 1872, she painted an amazing panorama of the city: View of Paris from the Trocadéro. The city stretches out below, immense and light.

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Berthe Morisot, Eugène Manet and his Daughter at Bougival, 1881. Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm. Musée Marmottan, Paris.

At the same time, Berthe was exhibiting pastels and watercolours. In these techniques she achieved definite success. The large portrait of Edma in a black dress with a background of white fabric decorated with delicate colour motifs is the work of a true master Portrait of Madame Pontillon (Paris, Louvre). But the charm of Berthe’s work is most evident in watercolours, such as The Artist’s Sister, Edma, with Her Daughter, Jeanne (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art) and On the Sofa (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum). In these works she lays down a light, transparent layer of paint, Blue, pink and gold reflections shimmer off the whiteness.

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Berthe Morisot, Child in the Rose Garden, 1881. Oil on canvas, 50 x 42 cm. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

In 1892, Eugène Manet died. He had always helped Berthe. In 1893, Morisot painted a portrait of her daughter with her dog in an interior: Julie Manet and her Greyhound Laërte. The beauty of this freely painted work illustrates the artist’s maturity and mastery. Berthe was the only one who could see Julie in this way: serious and dreamy, simultaneously modest and self-confident. On 2 March 1895, Berthe died of influenza. Renoir was painting en plein-air with Cézanne in Aix when he received the telegram announcing the death of Berthe Morisot. He put away his things and went directly to the train station. “I had the impression of being all alone in a desert,” he told his son. And, even though Renoir, Degas, and Monet still had a long life ahead of them, upon the death of Berthe Morisot the group of Impressionists started to fade away.

Keywords: Berthe Morisot, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Impressionism, Parkstone International, Art, Painting, Amazon Australia, Amazon Italy, Amazon Japan, Amazon China, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Spain, Amazon France, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Marmottan, Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Scribd

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