Berthe Morisot, the lone female artist amongst the group who in 1873 founded the Impressionist art movement, wrote ‘I do not think any man would ever treat a woman as his equal and it is all I ask because I know my worth’. Despite these remarks Berthe Morisot was well respected amongst this founding group which included Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro and in fact when the Impressionist movement started, Morisot had enjoyed far more success than these other artists. Ten years earlier in 1864 when she was only 23, Morisot had her work accepted by the official Paris Salon, a very difficult achievement for a woman of her day and in 1872 the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel started buying her paintings. Yet, despite all these achievements, Morisot today is far less known then the other founding members of Impressionism. Why I am not sure but you have to wonder is it because she is a woman, a fact the artist herself believed prevented her from being seen as an equal to her male contemporaries .
Today, for those who want to get a feel for this artist, there is no where better to start than the Musée Marmottan Monet who hold the largest collection of her work thanks to a donation from her descendants examples of which include ‘The Cherry Pickers’, 1891 (above left) and ´At the Ball’, 1875 (above right). The ‘Cherry Pickers’ in particular is typical of the light that Morisot infused into her paintings as she matured giving her works their unique brand.
So who was Berthe Morisot. Well, she was born into an affluent family who had a strong artistic interest and as was quite normal for girls of her background she, along with her sisters, received an artistic education. It became evident that she and her older sister, Edna, were gifted artists and by the age of 16, Berthe alongside Edma were copying the old masters at the Louvre. It was here she met Camille Corot, the famous landscape painter, who introduced her to painting ‘en plein air’ (outdoors). The sisters continued to work closely as artists until Edma married and moved to Brittany whereas Berthe seems to have abandoned ideas of marraige and children for the sake of her art. Edma’s letters to Berthe show that she missed painting and ´The Cradle’ (above left), one of Berthe’s most famous paintings and now in the Musée D’Orsay, depicts Edma looking at her sleeping child but suggesting that she is in fact not thinking about her daughter but her artistic days goneby.
In 1868 Berthe met the renouned artist Édouard Manet. Manet was nine years older than Berthe but the two became friends with some suggestions that they were romantically involved despite the fact that Manet was already married. With or without romance the pair were influential in each other’s work. Berthe was painted 12 times by Manet and these portraits capture Morisot’s beauty especially in her magnetic eyes as well as portraying her independent and determined spirit. One such portrait (above), showing a reclining Berthe, was in her collection at her death and can now be seen in the Musée Marmottan Monet.
In 1874 at the age of 33, Berthe went on to marry Manet’s brother Eugène, himself an artist but who agreed to give up his own career in order to manage Berthe’s. The couple appeared to have been content and had one child, Julie. Both Eugène and especially Julie became favorite subjects of Berthe as can be seen in several of the paintings at the Musée Marmottan Monet including the one below entitled ´Eugène Manet and his Daughter at Bougival’, 1881 which shows Eugène looking tenderly at his young daughter engrossed in her game. In fact many of Morisot’s works depicted domestic scenes like this because by virtue of her sex, there were some subjects she was prevented from undertaking such as cabaret, café, bars, dancing girls, etc.
By the time of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Berthe’s work was still being accepted by the official Paris Salon but this did not prevent her brave move in switching to the impressionist’s exhibition. She would go on to contribute to all bar one of the eight impressionist exhibitions until the group disbanded. In 2013, Morisot’s painting ´After Lunch’ (left), sold for $10.9 million being the highest auction price paid for a work by a female artist which I can only imagine brought a smile to the artist’s lips. Proof also that she has not been entirely overshadowed by her male counterparts!