Berthe Morisot was a French artist. Morisot set out from a young age to become a painter and worked purposefully to gain recognition as an artist. In 1874, she, as the only woman, joined the ranks of young, independent artists. Together with parts of this group, Morisot helped lay the foundations for Impressionism – the art direction of which she became one of the foremost exponents.
Morisot's pictures reproduce motifs from the intimate sphere of Paris' bourgeoisie. Her motifs revolve around moments of leisure and idleness. The pictures are relatively bright and also colorful, completely in line with Impressionism's prioritization of plein air painting and the optical effects of the colors. Morisot's palette was also characterized by pastel colours. In her time, she was singled out as someone who mastered subtle color values and nuanced shades in the hues. At the same time, her pictures were criticized for appearing sketchy or unfinished, and some complained that they bordered on bland abstraction if the viewer got too close to them.
Like the other Impressionists, she broke with established conventions that said the paint had to be applied evenly and cover the entire canvas. In Morisot's work, traces of the direction and strength of the brushstrokes can be seen, which show the painting process itself. The technique brings out how the motifs are built up, and in some works she left parts of the canvas completely bare. The reason was that this made transport easier for her as the paint was still not dry.
Connections with Manet
Morisot also modeled several times herself, and most often for the artist Edouard Manet (1832–1883). He had four Morisot paintings in his possession and recognized and encouraged her artistic career. Morisot married Manet's older brother, Eugene Manet, in 1874. The couple had a daughter Julie four years later.
Both as Miss Morisot, before marriage, and as Mrs Manet, when married, she frequented many artists. The correspondence that has been preserved after Morisot and the circle she was part of shows how she was on the inside and maintained extensive contact with an active artistic community in Paris. Morisot was loyal collegially and socially in her circle of artists and gave her friends active support - such as when in 1889 she was a driving force in the process for Manet's scandalous work Olympia to be included in the Louvre museum's public art collections.
The state art academy was closed to women until 1897. Several other doors that were open to male artists were closed to women. In a society and a big city like Paris, Morisot's privileged social background meant strong restrictions on her freedom of movement, which the male artists and colleagues she exhibited with had to take into account.
As E. Manet used to do, in this pastel Morisot has used only black and white, and a little pink and blue – for the mouth and eyes. Pastel is a technique Morisot mastered to the full, and which was in vogue in the 1880s. The Riesener sisters, who were often models for Morisot, were daughters of the romantic painter Léon Riesener and related to E. Delacroix.
Morisot first sent her pictures to the Salon when she was 24 years old. The year was 1865, and she and Edma Morisot, the elder sister, made their debut together in a public arena that gave a stamp of approval to artists inside and outside the Academy of Fine Arts. Prior to their joint debut at the Salon, the sisters had shared lessons with various artists and teachers for several years.
Morisot received his first lessons in his teens from Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarn (1797–1857), a neoclassical painter who had Jean AD Ingres (1780–1867) as his artistic role model. They were then taught by Joseph Benoît Guichard (1806–1880). Besides being close to the artist Horace Vernet (1789–1863), he introduced them to the artists of Romanticism and his own admiration for Eugene Delacroix (1798–1863).
In his role as a teacher, Guichard believed that both Morisot sisters had considerable talents worth investing in. At the same time, he pointed to possible negative consequences. So although he supported them, he foreshadowed their mother for a potential "disaster" if the girls became "real artists" as it was a "revolutionary" break and went against all social expectations.
In the early 1860s, the Morisot sisters went to learn plein air painting with their third teacher, Camille Corot (1796–1875). He had several other admirers among the young artists of the time, and with him Morisot laid the foundation for a good network of contacts among Paris' younger artists.
Edma, on the other hand, gave up as an artist in 1869 when she married and moved from Paris. Berthe Morisot made several trips to her sister's family in Normandy, and she painted several portraits of her and her children there. Showing art at the Salon could bring the artists more commissions and new customers, but the greatest honor was getting the main prize in the official competition. Then you got a three-year study stay in Rome to study and learn from classical art, but this was reserved for men.
It was only when she turned 31 that Morisot was able to sell her works beyond those that family and friends had bought. In 1872, the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831–1922) resold two works to industrial owner Ernest Hoschedé (1837–1891).
Morisot always signed her pictures with her maiden name, even after she was married at the age of 33. Her husband Eugene Manet (1833–1892) was the older brother of Edouard Manet. He took on the role of her faithful facilitator, which helped her to build on her network, establish a name for herself and develop her art in line with her own wishes.
The Manet and Morisot families began to associate with each other after a meeting in the Louvre, where Henri Fantin-Latour (1836–1904) introduced the Morisot sisters to the Manet brothers. Morisot first modeled for Manet when he painted The Balcony (1868). Manet created over a dozen pictures with her as a model, and even after she became his sister-in-law in 1874, their friendship remained close and characterized by a mutual, professional respect.
The foundation for her close ties with the other Impressionists was laid all the way back in the 1860s with Corot, when Morisot became acquainted with, among others, Claude Monet (1840–1926), Alfred Sisley (1839–1899) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). ). This also included the slightly older Edgard Degas (1834–1917), with whom she also had a close relationship for the rest of her life.
Like her mother, Morisot held weekly dinner parties that brought together this fixed, closest circle of friends and colleagues. Apart from the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), all the famous artists of the time - together with a number of other towering figures in contemporary public, artistic and cultural life - were regular guests at her dinner table.
The new establishment
The turn of the year 1873–1874 was a turning point in Morisot's life and career. Then she turned her back on Salongen and instead opted for an alternative, independent path with great freedom. First, she took up formal membership in a newly formed cooperative that numbered 30 artists, including several friends, who, together with her, laid the foundations for Impressionism. As the only woman in this group, she also stood out when the group organized its first exhibition in parallel with the Salon in April 1874.
Morisot and the other Impressionists were unsuccessful in persuading Edouard Manet to join them. On the contrary, he sort of dissuaded Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824–1898) Morisot from taking the step away from the Salon.
At the group's first exhibition, Morisot showed a total of nine works, four of which were paintings. Around 3,500 visitors made their way to the exhibition, while the Salon by comparison had over 400,000 visitors that year. Most of the works at the exhibition were auctioned off afterwards because sales at the exhibition went so poorly. The next attempt was launched two years later, and then she exhibited a total of 13 paintings.
A total of eight group exhibitions were organized over a total of twelve years, until 1886. Morisot participated in seven, more than any of the other Impressionists. In total, she exhibited 55 paintings as well as a number of watercolours, pastels and also some prints, a bust of Julie and also several fans. Morisot and her husband contributed as organizers and financed the eighth and very last screening, in 1886.
Her absence from the group exhibition in 1879 was due to her having given birth the year before. Consequently, at this fourth exhibition there was only one female artist when Mary Cassatt (1845–1926) took part there for the first time. Cassatt himself owned several of Morisot's pictures, and the two have been compared and seen in context also because of the subjects they treat.
Despite the fact that her attendance at the shows was more regular than the male Impressionists, she ended up with less recognition than her colleagues. This despite the fact that she demonstrated both her willingness to work and her abilities early on, and also, in line with them, invested purposefully and worked with integrity and perseverance.
The later discussion of her art has often focused on the subjects – portraits of young women, of children and their mothers or nurses. The nurses who had this as paid work were in the service of well-off families. Art historian Linda Nochlin has pointed out that the treatment Morisot gives these women as subjects reflects Morisot's own role and her profession as a woman and artist, which was a form of work.
The people that Morisot paints in his pictures are characterized by quiet and orderly family life in scenic surroundings. The calmness that many have pointed out characterizes Morisot's imagery of contemplative, reading and needlework women and of women undressing, is nevertheless not entirely unequivocally harmonious. Here, Morisot portrayed an ambivalence towards the situation, as in one of her major works, The Cradle (Le berceau, 1872), where she has painted her sister Edma with an absent, dreamy gaze as she watches over her child. And in the portrait of her then recently married older sister, Morisot portrayed Edma with the same melancholic, introspectiveness – sitting quietly with a half-turned fan in front of her (Young woman at the window, Portrait de Madame Pontillon / Jeune femme à sa fenêtre, 1868–1869) .
Her outdoor motifs devote a lot of space to light and colour, but also in these motifs of gardens, parks and landscapes, Morisot reproduces a touch of melancholy in that the motifs also give a picture of exhausted possibilities: These pictures contain detailed records of the day's walk and the variations of daylight along the way. Critics of her contemporaries recognized the images' aspect of being snapshots that indicated the inexorable passage of time. As a result of the expansive development of the city center under Napoleon 3, Paris gained better infrastructure and denser housing, but several of these landscapes and the forms of life that Morisot and the other Impressionists painted had to give way in the face of modernisation.
A motif Morisot used several times was of her husband Eugene with their daughter, Julie. Such motifs of fathers and children were not common. A portrait from 1865 by his sister Edma shows a young Morisot with the palette at work rather than an easel. In the 14 pictures Manet created of her, he never reproduced her as an artist. When she died in 1895, she was listed as "without occupation" on the death certificate.
Reception This classic, frontal composition is given dynamism by the tight image section and by the light that is concentrated on the woman's chest and the frills of the dress. Morisot reproduces an ambivalent look here – a state between daydream and lack of illusion. Morisot often used friends and family as models, but here the model was probably a professional who had been paid, which gave the painters greater leeway if the process dragged on.
The works of Morisot were most often praised by the critics who wrote about the Impressionists' pictures. When the third exhibition was held, one critic singled out her position in the "revolutionary assembly" of artists as unique because she was the only "real Impressionist".
Throughout the 1880s, several critics claimed that Impressionism was a dead end, and Morisot's pictures were labeled "embryonic" by one writer, and others considered them to be "poorly coherent". Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907) also started by writing her off as an artist, but he changed his position. One person who believed that she had established a direction for her art, and that her pictures were based on "good basic skills" in contrast to those she exhibited with, was Odilon Redon (1840–1916).
An everyday motif with cut flowers where Morisot simultaneously shows transience in a study of pink and gray denominations. The visible brushstrokes show off the quick movements of the hand, and it effectively reproduces the space and the motif of the heavy peony dropping its petals because it is about to wither and die.
Her affiliation among the Impressionists was officially confirmed in 1876 when the artist Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) entered her name in his testamentary gift. With the gift, he wanted to help promote Impressionism after his death, and he also donated his collection of important Impressionist paintings to the French state. It did not include any Morisot work, and thus she was not included among her equals in this important handover to the state. In 1894, Mallarmé fixed a museum purchase of a Morisot work for the first time when the painting Young Girl Dressed Up for a Ball (Jeune femme en toilette de bal) from 1879 came up for sale.
Morisot died aged 51 in 1895. Exactly one year later, in 1896, Julie organized a memorial exhibition with up to 400 of Morisot's works in collaboration with Durand-Ruel, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Mallarmé. In 1941, a retrospective public exhibition was held in France for the first time. And when the Musée d'Orsay dedicated an exhibition to her in 2019, as many as 40 percent of the works were borrowed from private collectors. Today, the proportion of her works in public ownership is exceptionally low compared to the other Impressionists' place in museum collections. The institution that holds the most significant collection of Morisot's works is the Musée Marmottan in Paris. Following a donation from the heirs, the museum has a total of 25 paintings and 65 watercolours, pastels and drawings from Morisot's hand.
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