Berthe Morisot, Portrait de Mme Morisot et de sa fille Mme Pontillon ou La lecture (The Mother and Sister of the Artist - Marie-Joséphine & Edma) 1869/70
Morisot was born in Bourges, France, into an affluent bourgeois family. Her father, Edmé Tiburce Morisot, was the prefect (senior administrator) of the department of Cher. Her mother, Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas, was the great-niece of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, one of the most prolific Rococo painters of the ancien régime. She had two older sisters, Yves (1838-1893) and Edma (1839-1921), plus a younger brother, Tiburce, born in 1848. The family moved to Paris in 1852, when Morisot was a child.
It was common practice for daughters of bourgeois families to receive art education, so Berthe and her sisters Yves and Edma were taught privately by Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne and Joseph Guichard. In 1857 Guichard introduced Berthe and Edma to the Louvre gallery where they could learn by looking, and from 1858 they learned by copying paintings. He also introduced them to the works of Gavarni.
As art students, Berthe and Edma worked closely together until Edma married Adolphe Pontillon, a naval officer, moved to Cherbourg, had children, and had less time to paint. Letters between the sisters show a loving relationship, underscored by Berthe's regret at the distance between them and Edma's withdrawal from painting. Edma wholeheartedly supported Berthe's continued work and their families always remained close. Edma wrote “… I am often with you in thought, dear Berthe. I’m in your studio and I like to slip away, if only for a quarter of an hour, to breathe that atmosphere that we shared for many years…”.
Morisot registered as a copyist at the Louvre where she befriended other artists and teachers including Camille Corot, the pivotal landscape painter of the Barbizon School who also excelled in figure painting. In 1860, under Corot's influence she took up the plein air (outdoors) method of working. By 1863 she was studying under Achille Oudinot, another Barbizon painter. In the winter of 1863–64 she studied sculpture under Aimé Millet, but none of her sculpture is known to survive.
Morisot's first appearance in the Salon de Paris came at the age of twenty-three in 1864, with the acceptance of two landscape paintings. She continued to show regularly in the Salon, to generally favorable reviews, until 1873, the year before the first Impressionist exhibition. She exhibited with the Impressionists from 1874 onwards, only missing the exhibition in 1878 when her daughter was born.
Morisot's mature career began in 1872. She found an audience for her work with Durand-Ruel, the private dealer, who bought twenty-two paintings. In 1877, she was described by the critic for Le Temps as the "one real Impressionist in this group." She chose to exhibit under her full maiden name instead of using a pseudonym or her married name. In the 1880 exhibition, many reviews judged Morisot among the best, including Le Figaro critic Albert Wolff.
1864 exhibited two paintings in the Paris Salon
1874 first Impressionist exhibition, showed twelve works
1875 Auction at Hotel Drouot, showed twelve works
1880 Paris exhibition, reviews judged her among the best.
1883 London exhibition, organized by Durand-Ruel including three works by Morisot
1892 first solo-exhibition of forty-three works in Paris by Boussod and Valadon
In 1868 Morisot became friends with Édouard Manet who painted several portraits of her, including a striking study in a black veil while in mourning for her father. Correspondence between them shows warm affection, and Manet gave her an easel as a Christmas present. To her dismay he interfered with one of her Salon submissions whilst he was engaged to transport it, mistaking her self-criticism as an invitation to add corrections.
Although Manet is regarded as the master and Morisot as the follower, there is evidence that their relationship was reciprocal. Records show Manet's appreciation of her distinctive original style and compositional decisions, some of which he incorporated into his own work. It was Morisot who persuaded Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practising since having been introduced to it by Corot.
Morisot drew Manet into the circle of painters who became known as the Impressionists. In 1874, she married Manet's brother, Eugene, and they had one daughter, Julie, who became the subject for many of her mother's paintings. Julie's memoirs, Growing Up with the Impressionists: The Diary of Julie Manet, were published in 1987.
Style and technique
Morisot’s works are almost always small in scale. She worked in oil paint, watercolors, or pastel, and sketched using various drawing media. Around 1880 she began painting on unprimed canvases—a technique Manet and Eva Gonzalès also experimented with at the time—and her brushwork became looser. In 1888–89, her brushstrokes transitioned from short, rapid strokes to long, sinuous ones that define form. The outer edges of her paintings were often left unfinished, allowing the canvas to show through and increasing the sense of spontaneity. After 1885, she worked mostly from preliminary drawings before beginning her oil paintings.
Morisot creates a sense of space and depth through the use of color. Although her color palette was somewhat limited, her fellow impressionists regarded her as a "virtuoso colorist". She typically made expansive use of white, whether used as a pure white or mixed with other colors. In her large painting, The Cherry Tree, colors are more vivid but are still used to emphasize form.
Bergère nue couchée (Shepherdess - reclining nude) by Berthe Morisot
Morisot painted what she experienced on a daily basis. Her paintings reflect the 19th-century cultural restrictions of her class and gender. She avoided urban and street scenes and seldom painted the nude figure. Like her fellow Impressionist Mary Cassatt, she focused on domestic life and portraits in which she could use family and personal friends as models, including her daughter Julie. Prior to the 1860s, Morisot painted subjects in line with the Barbizon school before turning to scenes of contemporary femininity. Paintings like The Cradle (1872), in which she depicted current trends for nursery furniture, reflect her sensitivity to fashion and advertising, both of which would have been apparent to her female audience. Her works also include landscapes, portraits, garden settings and boating scenes. However, later in her career Morisot worked with more ambitious themes, such as nudes.
Morisot was married to Eugène Manet, the brother of her friend and colleague Édouard Manet, from 1874 until his death in 1895. In 1878 she gave birth to her only child, Julie, who posed frequently for her mother and other Impressionist artists, including Renoir and her uncle Édouard.
Morisot died on 2 March 1895, in Paris, of pneumonia contracted while attending to her daughter Julie's similar illness, and thus orphaning her at the age of 15. She was interred in the Cimetière de Passy.
She was portrayed by actress Marine Delterme in the eponymous 2012 French biographical TV film directed by Caroline Champetier.
Morisot's work sold comparatively well. She achieved the two highest prices at a Hôtel Drouot auction in 1857, the Interior (Young Woman with Mirror) sold for 480 francs, and her pastel On the Lawn sold for 320 francs. Her works averaged 250 francs, the best relative prices at the auction.
Morisot became the highest priced female artist in February 2013, when After Lunch (1881), a portrait of a young redhead in a straw hat and purple dress, sold for $10.9 million at a Christie's auction, roughly three times its high estimate. Exceeding the $10.7 million for a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois in 2012.
Selection of Works
This list is incomplete, you can help by expanding it with certified entries.
This limited selection is based on the book Berthe Morisot by Charles F. Stuckey, William P. Scott and Susan G. Lindsay, which is in turn drawn from the 1961 catalogue by Marie-Louise Bataille, Rouaart Denis and Georges Wildenstein. There are variations between the dates of execution, first showing and purchase. Titles may vary between sources.
Early years of Impressionism, 1864-1874
Étude, 1864, oil on canvas, 60.3 × 73 cm, private collection
Chaumière en Normandie, 1865, oil on canvas, 46 × 55 cm, private collection
La Seine en aval du pont d'Iéna, 1866, oil on canvas, 51 × 73 cm, private collection
La Rivière de Pont Aven à Roz-Bras, 1867, oil on canvas, 55 × 73 cm, private collection - Chicago
Bateaux à l'aurore, 1869, pastel on paper, 19.7 × 26.7 cm, private collection
Jeune fille à sa fenêtre, 1869, oil on canvas, 36.8 × 45.4 cm, private collection