Berthe Morisot, born on January 14, 1841 in Bourges, France, is one of the most famous painters of Impressionism. At this time men dominated the world of artists. However, it is part of a good upbringing that women from the higher social classes can also paint.
However, a professional artistic education is denied them, and this will only change many years later. Women are not yet recognized as professional artists.
Since Morisot grew up in a wealthy, art-loving and middle-class family, she and her sister Edma met important artists and masters of painting already in the family home. This also gives them the opportunity to participate in first-class painting lessons. Together with her sister, she began as a student of the naturalistic painter Paul Charles Chocarne Moreau and then learned from other painters the family knew.
She continues her studies in Louvre, where she spends much time copying the masters exhibited there. In 1868 she met the painter Édouard Manet, whose acquaintance opened many new doors for her in the world of art. Through Manet she met many famous artists, including the landscape painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, who supported her artistically on her path and taught her for years. Corot’s influence is particularly strong in her paintings of the 1860s, which is expressed in the mostly lifelike landscape depictions.
Impressionism and light painting
But the influence of Édouard Manet, with whom she has a close friendship and with whom she worked closely for several years, influenced Morisot more and more. Morisot finally abandoned the conventional painting style of Corot and over time tended to open-air painting of an Impressionist nature, in which she found her own style.
She moves in Impressionist artist circles together with painters such as Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Auguste Renoir. In 1874 she participated in the art exhibition in the studio of the photographer Nadar. Many of the other Impressionists took part in the same exhibition. Monet is represented with his painting “Impression, Sunrise”. This picture inspired the artists – who until then had not had their own style of art – to their new names: the Impressionists. All in all, few paintings are sold at the initial exhibitions. At the second exhibition (1875), Berthe’s paintings were the most profitable of all the artists. Morisot not only became the first publicly recognized female impressionist, she also developed into one of the most important impressionists of all.
In Morisot’s other works, her openness to modern influences is evident. She now frequently depicts family scenes in nature, many of which were created on her estate in Bougival, where she spends several summers.
Morisot married Eugène Manet, the younger brother of Édouard. From him she gives birth to a daughter, Julie, in 1878.
In the 1880s, Morisot made several trips. She spent some time in the south of France and in Italy, travelling to Holland, Belgium and Jersey, among other places. She now painted frequently with Pierre-August Renoir and was inspired by his painting. In 1883 Édouard Manet died and the death of her close and longtime friend hit her very hard. In that year she moves into the house in Paris that her husband had built. This now new home became a meeting place for many artists, including the impressionist painters Renoir, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas and others. But also the journalist and art critic Théodore Duret is a frequent guest here.
In 1891 Morisot’s first solo exhibition took place in Paris. In the same year her husband Eugène Manet died and she lived alone with her 13-year-old daughter Julie. She herself died in 1894, at the age of 54, from the consequences of a serious illness while nursing her daughter.
“Painting is for me as necessary as breathing”
Berthe Morisot is an artist who has been forgotten for many years. Today she is celebrated as one of the most important impressionists. As a young artist, she moved in the circles of famous impressionist painters, who were mostly men, but who also included women in their circles as equal and accepted them as their equals. This is not usual towards the end of the 18th century. Mrs. Morisot nevertheless managed to be recognized. Not all, but many of her works were accepted and exhibited for years in the art exhibitions of the Paris Salon. This is not a matter of course among the Impressionists, indeed it is unusual. In Berthes case, it is probably because her paintings are very small compared to other artists and can be easily hung anywhere. In the 1970s, however, several of Berthes paintings were rejected and she began to exhibit her paintings outside the salon.
The special thing about Berthe Morisot’s work as an artist was that she preferred to paint scenes from her own life, as if she was capturing her own life on canvas. She paints natural situations that she encounters, everyday themes of life, in the environment in which she was staying. As human motifs for her paintings she often chose those who were personally close to her, mostly from her own family. Her paintings were often smaller than the works of other well-known artists of her time and could therefore be easily hung up and taken away. Her entire work is sometimes described as a “painted diary”, consisting of colors and light instead of words.
“My ambition was limited to capturing something of what was passing by. Something! Even that ambition is still excessive.” Berthe Morisot.
Nature as painting object and inspiration
Her most frequent motifs were landscape paintings, e.g. garden, coastal and harbour pictures. Other motifs were portraits, mainly of women and children, as well as indoor and outdoor scenes, in the garden or in differently shaped natural environments.
Berthe is a true master of light. Her main field of activity is that of pastel and watercolor. Her paintings appear light, sometimes even transparent, due to the much light. A good example of this is the painting “Woman at the morning toilet” from 1875, in which the light is created by the white glowing dress and the strongly structured wall in the background. Berhe’s fine color nuances, often in pink and gray tones, bring her works to life. This gives her paintings a delicate and feminine expression.
Initially, Berthe was influenced by Corot’s works. Like him, she painted lifelike landscapes, and here, too, her paintings already show a special empathy, which she took over from him. Through the influence of Eduard Manet, her paintings later became increasingly brighter and freer. She occupied herself with light painting and abandoned the strict traditional way of painting. Only later, after Monet’s death and under the now strong influence of Renoir, did she develop a distinctly impressionistic way of painting.
Berthe was not a pioneer of modern art. She followed the artistic movements she was confronted with early in her life and interpreted them in her own way. An expression full of delicate colors, full of light and femininity.