Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

Impressionist painter, Berthe Morisot, was born in France around 1841. She was one of the first women who had a quite successful career in painting. Her contemporary, Gustave Geffroy praised her as the “les tois grandes dames” of the Impressionist circle together with other dames Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond. Morisot portrayed a range of subjects from still-life objects, landscapes, portraits and to domestic scenes.

Without doubt, Berthe Morisot was an extraordinary woman who earned and deserved her place in the 19th century French art. Some of her paintings got exhibited at the Salon alongside her colleagues in the circle. Her theme primarily depict the life of the middle-class and noble families. Her figures are well-dressed, set up in an environment representative of the bourgeoisie, and the domestic scenes in her house. She was the window to the private lives of the bourgeoisies during the19th century Paris.

Berthe Morisot’s most important works include The Cradle (1872), The Harbor at Lorient (1869), On the Balcony (1872), Summer Day (1879), and The Dining Room (1875). Most of her paintings depicted a woman figure doing a regular routine such as a girl arranging her hair, reading a book, or simply just sitting over the harbor fence. Additionally her husband, Eugene Manet, was also one of her inspirations specifically when she painted Eugene Manet on the Isle of Wright in 1875.

Early Life

Berthe Morisot was born on January 14, 1841 in Bourges, Cher France. She grew up to a bourgeoisie family, with parents Edme-Tiburce Morisot and Marie Corneille Thomas. Her father was a successful architect and high-ranking government official, which career path he wanted her daughter to pursue. Since she grew up to a quite popular family, developing some social connections with the important people was not that difficult for her.

As a matter of fact, biographers and historians believe that Berthe Morisot might came from the lineage of the French Rococo artist, Jean-Honore Fragonard, her supposed great grandfather. Her exposure to the arts began when she spent painting sessions with her sister, Edma. The painting activities would remain as a hobby though because at the time, women were not allowed to join a formal art school and training.

Early Training

Although Morisot’s career choices were limited by such a kind of restriction, she found way to break the ceiling. She joined the Impressionist circle based in Paris and had undergone training there under Joseph Guichard during the 1850’s. Under Guichard, she and her sister was trained at Louvre Museum where they had a close encounter of the works of the Old Masters.

In Paris, she produced pastiches of the old masters’ works. And after some time, she joined the studio of Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot to develop her landscape painting skills. She learnt of wide range of landscape subjects such as the views of the city. She stayed under the mentorship of Corot for several years, however, there had been a lot of time when she felt depressed about the gender biases of the art institutions.

Nonetheless, Morisot devoted a large part of her time and energy to painting. She’s also made acquaintances with Manet and other Impressionist painters at the time to be able to establish her reputation in the industry. Until one day, in 1864, Manet gave so much compliment about Morisot’s works that was finally able to display her first work for public viewing in a state-run art exhibition, Salon. So beginning 1864, Morisot would have held a regular exhibition for the next ten years.

Morisot said in her letter to Edma, “My only hope is to be rejected. I think it is miserable.” but to her surprise her works made it into the Salon.

Mature Years

In 1868, Berthe Morisot was introduced to Edouard Manet by Henri Fantan-Latour. The two became great friends right away that Morisot had been a recurrent figure in Manet’s paintings. She appeared in paintings like The Balcony (1868), Repose: Portrait of Berthe Morisot (1870), Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets (1872), and Morisot in a Mourning Hat (1874).

By 1874, the Societe Anonyme Cooperative was founded by the Impressionist circle. It was supposed to be a non-government art institution where painters could exhibit their paintings, including women. The membership fee was 60 francs which was inclusive of complimentary use of the gallery and profit-sharing points already. Berthe Morisot decided to join the cooperative on that same year. Subsequently, her paintings were included in the cooperative’s first Impressionist exhibition on April 15, 1874.

The first exhibition included the art works of Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Degas, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre Auguste Renoir. Meanwhile, examples of Morisot’s paintings that got featured on the show were The Harbor at Cherbourg, Reading, The Cradle, and Hide and Seek. Afterward, Morisot married Eugene Manet, Edouard’s younger brother. Her union with the younger Manet brought her stability in life overall, allowing her to continue her career in painting.

In 1877, she was pregnant with her first daughter, and this provided her an emotional inspiration to paint poignant subjects. However, her pregnancy hindered her to participate in the Salon’s fourth exhibition of 1879. Berthe taught her daughter, Julie, the rudiments of painting at a young age and this prefaced her future career.

In 1886, Morisot became a selling artist. She was contracted by Durand-Ruel Gallery to produce paintings for them. Her successful career stint at the said gallery cemented her place in the Parisian art scene. She was granted the privilege to hold her very first art show there in 1892. However, unfortunately, a few weeks before her art debut, Eugene suffered from premature death. This news got the artist heavily devastated that she wished to be with her husband as soon as possible.

Morisot had little choice but to try to move on and push through the event which she did anyway. She devoted most of her time mentoring Julie and they became inseparable. This had affected her career though because she had not been producing as many works as before, and thus, becoming commercially unsuccessful. Overall, art historians believe that Morisot had achieved greater commercial success than her contemporaries such as Sisley and Renoir in their lifetimes.

In 1894, the French government bought her Young Woman in a Ball Gown oil painting, which was one of the last successful commissions she produced.

Old Age

Berthe Morisot had spent her advanced years supervising Julie’s art training. However, her state of health slowly became poor that she contracted pneumonia later on. She died of the said lung disease on March 2, 1895 in her home at Paris, France.

Berthe Morisot’s Masterpiece

Le Berceau, The Cradle in English, is a considered masterpiece by Berthe Morisot. She painted it in 1872 in Paris, depicting her sister Edma looking after her daughter Blanche quietly in lull. The painting looks striking in a sense that it captured the sensibilities of a mother who had just entered marital life and motherhood.

The mother rests her left arm on the bed while locking her gaze at the sleeping child. It is worth mentioning that the eyes of the baby were closed so Morisot characterized it in a diagonal line, which meets the eyes of the mother exactly. Meanwhile, the cascading figure of the curtain over the crib reinforces the flow of intimate emotion between the mother and the baby. Morisot made a clear expression of maternal love in this painting.

The Cradle was featured at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. However, the painting received little attention from the visitors but the critics commended Morisot for her skill in painting graceful and elegant subjects. It wasn’t a masterpiece during her lifetime but when Louvre Museum bought it in 1930, its true value resurfaced and it is indeed a major French art work.