The Artist Berthe Morisot

In the history of art there are only a few known female artists, few who were as well known as their male colleagues. Some of today’s popular female painters, who are shown in museums, were lovers, life partners of famous artistic contemporaries, such as Paula Modersohn-Becker or Frida Kahlo, and were only perceived as such for the first time. Often, however, they emerged later from the shadow of this competition and became more famous than their male artist colleagues. Throughout their lives, however, many of them were underestimated or little noticed.

This was perhaps mainly due to the role relationships of their time and the position of women in society in general. A further aspect is that female artists received little or no attention in research in the field of art history. For a long time, women were also denied access to academic professions or were even not allowed to become artists. Today, we are living in a phase of upheaval, gender roles are being redefined and defined. In our society we have not yet reached where we should be for long, but the first steps have been taken. And this upheaval is also noticeable in art; more and more artists and women in the art world are recognized and named in their important roles.

Berthe Morisot “Lady at her Toilette”

Berthe Morisot was an artist of the 19th century, still a difficult time for women, especially in art. But she was one of those perceived during her lifetime, supported by her husband Eugène Manet, brother of the artist Edouard Manet. She belonged to the Impressionist group. And she was recognized and popular among her contemporary colleagues. Her talent for colour composition was praised and she was allowed to be represented as a woman with her works in the exhibitions of the Impressionists. At that time this was not a matter of course. Nowadays she has fallen somewhat into oblivion, but during her lifetime she was one of the pioneers of modernism and also a pioneer for female artists.

Berthe Morisot at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum

Morisot seems more important to us today than ever, because women are still fighting for their place in our society and in art. She painted in a world determined by men, yet she was accepted by them and perceived not as a competitor, but as a painter at eye level. Exemplary for today.

Berthe Morisot received painting and drawing lessons at an early age, her family was enthusiastic about art and together with her sister Edma she pursued her passion. In 1860 she became a pupil of Camille Corot and began painting in the open air (en plein air).

Berthe Morisot, “Young Girl with Doll”

In 1863 or 1868 Morisot met Edouard Manet, both became friends and she became his pupil and popular model from 1872 to 1874, for example for his famous painting “The Balcony” from 1868/1869. Their mutual recognition and inspiration shaped her work. Later, in 1874, she married Edouard’s brother Eugène. From 1872 onwards she travelled to Spain, England, Italy, Belgium and Holland. Morisot came from a wealthy family, she was cultivated and said to be amiable, her friends were artists, musicians and writers such as Henri Fantin-Latour, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir or Stéphane Mallarmé. Since 1891, she spent most of her time in her country house in Mesnil, where numerous paintings were made.

The theme of her motifs is primarily light in the landscape. But motifs such as interiors or portraits of women and children also found their way into her paintings. She also worked not only with oil, but also with watercolours, pastels, etchings and lithographs. She retained her own style despite her approach to Manet’s pictorial worlds. Characteristic are her light-containing colours, harmonious compositions and her delicate emotional expression in her painting. Morisot was one of the best-known French Impressionists of her time and was accepted and appreciated by her male colleagues in her own ranks. From 1874 she exhibited with her fellow painters and took part in almost all Impressionist exhibitions. Her painting style was reminiscent of that of Claude Monet or Auguste Renoir. Nevertheless, she was out of competition, because her eye for harmony and colours spoke for itself. Her paintings are characterized by an intimacy and tenderness, she knew how to depict girls, young women and children with a certain romanticism and sensitivity. Light colours such as rosé, light blue and richly nuanced white can be found again and again in her paintings, especially in her pastels and watercolours.

Through the influence of Manet, Morisot’s pictures became increasingly brighter and also freer, fresher. It became impressionistic after Manet’s death under the influence of Renoir. But she always remained very individual in her interpretation, also under the influence of her male colleagues. In addition, there is one criterion that stands out in Morisot’s work: she mainly painted situations and scenes that specifically concerned her, thus documenting her life on canvas. Everyday themes from her surroundings, captured on a painting background. The people she portrayed were therefore also family members and friends. Therefore, her complete works were also called painted diaries, instead of words light and color. An example of this is the work “Eugene Manet and his daughter in the garden” from 1883.

Berthe Morisot “In the Dining Room”

Their pictures touch me in a way that the other Impressionists are unable to do. Her sense of colour and her harmonious composition move a sentimentality in me, only through her special gift of empathy. She captured a wonderful lighting mood and was able to transport it through her paintings. The question arises whether it is perhaps also the femininity in her works that fascinates me so much? In any case, this painter should not be forgotten in art, because her work is characterized by a lust for life and freedom, coupled with love and femininity. Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges in 1841 and died in Paris in 1895.

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