On this day in 1841, Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, France. Her father was a high-ranking government official and her grandfather was a Rococo painter.
At the time, upper-class women were under rigid social rules. They were encouraged to study the fine arts, such as painting, which could be practiced with other women, but were not encouraged to become famous painters or sell their art in shows. Despite their traditional upbringing, Morisot and her sister Edma moved to Paris to study and copy paintings at the Louvre in the late 1950s under Joseph Guichard. They also studied with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, a landscape painter for several years. Corisot encouraged Morisot to paint en plein air, or “outdoors.”
At one point, Corot wrote in a letter to the Morisot sisters’ mother, “With characters like your daughters, my teaching will make them painters, not minor amateur talents. Do you really understand what that means? In the world of the grande bourgeoisie in which you move, it would be a revolution. I would even say a catastrophe.”
Sure enough, Morisot exhibited her work for the first time in the prestigious show, the Salon, in 1864. The Salon was the official show of the state-run organization the Academie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) in Paris.
Over the years, Morisot’s paintings became more Impressionistic. Impressionism is a painting style that originated in France in the 19th century. It focuses on natural light, features bold colors, and utilizes short, visible brush strokes. This style of painting was revolutionary at the time because it rejected the conventional painting style, which was very detailed and realistic. Impressionism, on the other hand, gave more of an “impression” of a scene than a painstakingly detailed depiction. Furthermore, Impressionist painters often depicted “snapshots” of daily life such as dreamy landscapes or scenes from domestic life. Because Impressionism was unconventional, many Impressionist painters were rejected from showing in the Salon.
In 1868, Morisot met Impressionist artist Edouard Manet, with whom she had a lasting friendship. Morisot became even more involved in the Impressionist community, marrying Manet’s brother, Eugene, in 1874 and becoming friends with other influential Impressionist painters such as Edgar Degas and Frederic Bazille.
Morisot had a regular spot in the Salon, but in 1874, she chose to exhibit her work at the first independent Impressionist show instead. She continued to show her work in every show except for 1877 when she was pregnant with her daughter Julie. After Julie’s birth, she soon became Morisot’s favorite subject.
Although Morisot’s style was modern for the time, she enjoyed the support of many critics during her lifetime. Here is Charles Ephrussi’s beautiful description of Morisot’s work from the Gazette des Beaux-Arts:
Berthe Morisot is very French in her distinction, elegance, gaiety and nonchalance. She loves painting that is joyous and lively; she grinds flower petals onto her palette, in order to spread them later on her canvas with airy, witty touches, thrown down a little haphazardly. These harmonise, blend, and finish by producing something vital, fine, and charming.
Eugene Manet died in 1892, and Morisot continued to paint. While never attaining commercial success during her lifetime, she outsold many of her contemporaries including Monet and Renoir, had a solo exhibition in 1892, and had one of her paintings purchased by the government in 1894.
Morisot died from pneumonia on March 2, 1895 at the age of 54.
I’m fascinated by Morisot, because she not only broke the rules of conventional French painting, she also broke expectations for her gender by pursuing a career in painting.
I love learning about French art movements. In fact, one of my first posts was about Rene Magritte, my favorite surrealist painter.
Thanks for reading!