Berthe Morisot

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Berthe Morisot, around 1872

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot (* 14. January 1841 in Bourges , † 2. March 1895 in Paris ), and Berthe Manet , was a French painter of Impressionism .

She came from a wealthy French family and received private lessons in painting and drawing . In the 1860s she was a student of Camille Corot . However, she rejected the conventional style of her teacher and opted for the impressionist style of painting. She was close friends with the painter Édouard Manet , who portrayed her repeatedly between 1868 and 1874. In all her approaches to Manet, however, she retained an independent style, often characterized by bright colors and a strong emphasis on graphic means. Berthe Morisot was the first woman in the group of impressionists. In 1874 she took part in the first impressionist exhibition with nine works and was represented at all exhibitions of this group until 1886, with the exception of 1879. In December 1874 she married Eugène Manet , Edouard Manet's brother. Their daughter Julie Manet was born the following year .

Berthe Morisot preferred to paint family scenes, portraits of women and children, interiors and landscapes, which often include pictures of the coast. Berthe Morisot, together with the American artist Mary Cassatt, is considered the most important painter of the late 19th century.

life and work

Family background

Berthe Morisot's Cradle , 1873, Musée d'Orsay , Paris

Berthe Morisot was the daughter of Tiburce Morisot and Marie Cornélie Thomas. The latter came from a family of respected and high-ranking French administrative officials. Tiburce Morisot's ancestors, on the other hand, were families of craftsmen. Thanks to the influence of his father-in-law, Tiburce Morisot, who married the sixteen-year-old Marie Cornélie in 1835, got a job in the French financial administration in 1836 and proved himself there so much that after four years he was promoted to Prefect of the Cher administrative district . In 1846 he was promoted to officer of the French Legion of Honor for his services . His steep career, during the course of which he lived with his family in Valenciennes , Bourges (Berthe Morisot's birthplace), Limoges , Caen , Rennes and, from 1851, finally in Paris , initially ended with the beginning of the second French Empire under Napoléon III. On July 5, 1852 he was dismissed from the service and it was only thanks to a renewed intervention by the Thomas family that years later he was given the somewhat less influential task of Conseiller référendaire à la Cour des Comptes (legal advisor to the Court of Auditors). The family is thus part of the upper middle class in France. In addition to Tiburce Morisot's professional income, she had a personal income thanks to the inheritance of Marie Cornélie Thomas. The family was thus wealthy and Berthe Morisot was never forced, like other women in art, to sell her works to earn a living or to pursue art as a profession.

Tiburce Morisot and Marie Cornélie Thomas were married to four children. Berthe Morisot, born on January 14, 1841, was the third daughter. Her sister Yves Morisot was born in 1838 and Edma Morisot was born in 1839. The exact year of her only brother's birth is unknown. He was born sometime between 1845 and 1848.

Childhood and youth

The Bath, by Berthe Morisot, 1885/1886, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute , Williamstown, Mass. United States

Little is known about Berthe Morisot's childhood. She herself only mentions an English governess in her later written notes. All three sisters received art classes. In addition to piano, singing and conversation lessons, this was part of the class-appropriate training for daughters from the French middle class, who should be able to perform a piano piece or song for the guests at an evening party or to portray their family and family scenes passably. Art classes for young women focused on drawing and small format works in gouache and watercolors . In contrast to oil painting, this did not require an elaborate studio, and the financial outlay for lessons in watercolor painting was significantly lower at a maximum of fifty francs a year. The annual maintenance of a professional painter's studio in which the large-format paintings such as those shown in the Paris Salon were made, on the other hand, amounted to two to three thousand francs. A private tutor was usually hired for the art lessons that bourgeois and noble daughters received. Even renowned painters like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Jacques-Louis David taught young women painting. Professional art lessons, such as that offered in renowned art schools, were not open to women at the time. It was not until 1897 that the École des Beaux-Arts, the first art academy in France, gave in to the great demand from women to study art.

Of the Morisot daughters, only the two younger ones - Berthe and Edma - developed a more intense interest in painting. Her first drawing teacher was the academic genre painter Geoffrey-Alphonse Chocarne, and between 1857 and 1860 the painter Joseph Guichard , who sometimes urged his students to copy the masterpieces in the Louvre . From 1860, Camille Corot began teaching the two sisters. The well-known painter wrote a warning to her mother before classes began:

With characters like your daughters, my lessons will turn them into painters [and] not insignificant, talented amateurs. Do you realize what that means? In the world of the “grande bourgeoisie” in which you operate, this is a revolution, I would even say a catastrophe! Are you really sure that one day you will never curse the art that will be the only master over the fate of your two children once you enter this respectable, peaceful house?

Early relationships with the French art scene

At the evening parties that Marie Cornélie Thomas gave every Tuesday in her house, artists were regularly invited guests. In addition to Camille Corot and the composer Gioachino Rossini , who lives in the neighborhood of the Morisot family, the painters with whom the two Morisot sisters Berthe and Edma had become acquainted were also present. The sisters had already been introduced to the painter Félix Bracquemond during their studies in front of the masterpieces in the Louvre , whose wife Marie Bracquemond is now also counted among the most important impressionist painters of the 19th century. Félix Bracquemond, in turn, introduced Edma and Berthe Morisot to the painter Henri Fantin-Latour , and Camille Corot introduced the sisters to a number of painters who belonged to the Barbizon school . From 1863, Achille François Oudinot , who belonged to this painting school, took over from Camille Corot for some time teaching the two Morisot sisters. At the same time, the sisters became acquainted with Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran and the portrait painter Alfred Stevens , who was very successful during the early 1860s . In the winter of 1863/64 Berthe Morisot also studied sculpture with Aimé Millet . However, sculptures by Berthe Morisot from that time have not been preserved.

Étendre le linge dehors pour qu'il sèche by Berthe Morisot, 1875, National Gallery of Art , Washington, DC

One of Berthe Morisot's most influential acquaintances in the 1860s was Adèle Colonna , a Swiss woman who married into the Roman nobility, but whose husband died six months after the wedding. Widowed, wealthy Adèle Colonna settled in Paris and broke the social conventions of her time by starting to work professionally as a sculptor . In 1863 Marcello , as Adèle Colonna called himself, was successfully represented with three sculptures in the Paris Salon. Berthe Morisot later described her acquaintance with Adèle Colonna, which began in 1864, as one of the most important in her life. In her biography of Berthe Morisot in 1995, Anne Higonnet emphasized above all that the role that Adèle Colonna lived in work and society radiated on Morisot. In contrast to George Sand and Rosa Bonheur (these two women had found recognition as authors and artists in the previous generation), who behaved “symbolically like men”, Adèle Colonna rejected such behavior. Although Adèle Colonna had chosen a field of creativity with sculpture that - even more so than writing and painting - was regarded as a field reserved for men, she attached great importance to being perceived and treated as a woman. Their work alone should be compared with that of men.

In 1868 Henri Fantin-Latour introduced the two Morisot sisters to Édouard Manet. Édouard Manet, whose paintings had already attracted so much attention, was already known to the sisters through his work. He and his two brothers Eugène and Gustave belonged to similar social circles of the French big bourgeoisie as the Morisot family. The older generations of the Manet family had also served the French state in high administrative functions. All three brothers received an income from the family's inherited wealth that ensured their livelihood. Like Marie Cornélie Thomas, Eugénie-Désirée Fournier, the mother of the Manet brothers, also gave evening parties at which the Morisot family was now regular guests. At one of these soirees, Berthe Morisot met Edgar Degas , who was important for her further artistic development .

First exhibitions

In 1864 both Edma and Berthe Morisot exhibited two pictures each in the Paris Salon . For Berthe Morisot, the presentation of her two landscape paintings was the first step towards becoming a professional painter. The fact that the two sisters had a large studio built on the property of their parents' house shortly after this exhibition is hardly a coincidence or a whim. At the time, the Paris Salon was considered the most important French art exhibition. It was at the discretion of a conservative jury to judge which pictures should be presented there to the public. To be able to exhibit in the Paris Salon, to receive good reviews in the press and, if necessary, even to receive an award, was a sure way for a painter to also have financial success. Rejected images, however, were rarely for sale. The painter Jongkind then tells us that he had to reimburse the buyer for a painting that was rejected by the jury.

Reclining Girl by Berthe Morisot, 1893, Richard Green Gallery, London

The fact that Berthe Morisot painted relatively small formats that hung well may have contributed to the acceptance of her pictures. The established painters of the French art academies, however, sometimes submitted paintings that were three by six meters. Berthe Morisot's pictures stood out among those of their female contemporaries due to the high quality of their execution and neither the choice of color, painting technique nor the chosen subjects provoked a rejection on the part of the jury. None of this applied to the paintings submitted by their contemporaries, who later also counted among the Impressionists. Artists like Monet , Manet , Renoir , Bazille or Sisley had little chance of being exhibited at the official Paris Salon with their concept of art, which deviated from the conservative academies. That is why they had already shown their pictures in 1863 in the sensational Salon des Refusés (art exhibition of the rejected). Edouard Manet's work Breakfast in the Green , like James McNeill Whistler's painting, Girl in White, with its subjects that were unusual at the time and her modern painting style, caused a scandal.

Although the jury hung the pictures by Edma and Berthe Morisot in such a way that even their mother had problems finding them among the large number of other paintings, the jury also accepted most of the pictures submitted by Berthe Morisot in the following years. In the years 1865, 1866 and 1870 she was represented with two and in the years 1868, 1872 and 1873 with one of her works at the Paris Salon. However, there is also certain evidence that the jury rejected one of the pictures it submitted in 1872 and even several in 1874. Aside from the exhibitions in the Paris Salon, both Berthe Morisot and her sister Edma submitted paintings to art exhibitions in the French provinces. In 1867, Alfred Cadart , one of the first gallery owners of the 19th century, presented a selection of paintings by the two sisters in the window of his gallery.

In 1886 Morisot changed her style of painting, and in 1892 her first solo exhibition was shown with great success in the Boussod et Valadon gallery.

Marriage of Edma Morisot

On March 8, 1869, the now thirty-year-old Edma Morisot married the French naval officer Adolphe Pontillon and moved to Brittany, where her husband was stationed. Edma Morisot gave up her artistic ambitions with her marriage. Only two paintings of her have survived: a landscape painting and a portrait of her sister Berthe painting. According to the art historian Anne Higonnet, however, these two paintings show that Edma Morisot was on the same high artistic level as her sister.

For Berthe Morisot, too, the marriage of her sister Edma ended an important phase in life. Edma had shared her artistic ambitions; Together they went on painting excursions or went to the Louvre to copy the old masters. As the daughter of a middle-class family, Berthe Morisot was unable to do all of this on her own. As an unmarried and still young woman, the social conventions of her time required her to always be accompanied in public. The separation from her sister therefore meant a considerable cut in her personal freedom. In addition, she was exposed to increasing pressure from her family to get married too. She increasingly questioned her decision to pursue an artistic career. In autumn 1869 she wrote to her sister Edma:

I'm sad and worse, everyone is leaving me. I feel lonely, disaffected and old on top of that.

Relationship with Édouard Manet

Berthe Morisot , 1872, painted by Édouard Manet

Berthe Morisot became close friends with Édouard Manet after her sister's marriage. The relationship with the artist, who was married to Suzanne Leenhoff , was very likely purely platonic in nature. The two usually only met in situations in which other people were also present. Unlike most of her contemporaries, Berthe Morisot was convinced very early on that Édouard Manet towered over the circle of contemporary painters. However, it is difficult to estimate what influence this insight had on her own work. What is striking, however, is that in the first few years of her friendship with Édouard Manet she painted less than in the years before.

At the very beginning of their acquaintance, Édouard Manet asked Berthe Morisot to model him. This request was unusual, because daughters of respectable families allowed themselves to be portrayed by painters, but did not serve as the actual model and subject of an artist. Usually female models at that time belonged to the lower class and were often also sexually available to their client. However, during the last three decades of the 19th century it became increasingly common for artists to choose their friends, relatives and acquaintances as the subject of their work. In order to maintain the necessary decency, Berthe Morisot was usually accompanied by her mother Marie Cornélie Thomas to Édouard Manet's studio. The artist depicted Berthe Morisot on eleven oil paintings and one watercolor. These paintings were not intended for the art trade - seven of them remained his property until Manet's death. The remaining works, namely four oil paintings and the watercolor, came into the possession of close friends or established art connoisseurs who were close to Manet.

The balcony of Édouard Manet (Berthe Morisot is shown on the left)

The first painting by Édouard Manet that Berthe Morisot shows is The Balcony , a group picture inspired by Goya's Maja on the balcony . Berthe Morisot can be seen on it with Manet's friend Antoine Guillemet and the violinist Fanny Claus . It was exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1869 and met with different reactions. All of the later portraits in which Berthe Morisot is shown by Édouard Manet are much more intimate. The following picture, titled Berthe Morisot at rest, shows a lost, white-clad woman leaning back on a sofa. This picture finds its counterpart in the painting Eva in front of the easel, which was created almost at the same time . The Eva Gonzalès portrayed belonged to a similar social class as Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet, but was six years younger than Morisot. Morisot asked Édouard Manet to teach Eva Gonzalès painting. The relationship between Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzalès was not always unclouded. In a letter to her sister Edma, Berthe Morisot complained:

“Manet preaches to me and holds up to me the inevitable Mademoiselle Gonzalès as an example; she knows what she wants, is persistent, and knows how to implement her ideas, while I am unable to do anything. Meanwhile she sits for him every day [as a model] ... "
The Harbor at Lorient by Berthe Morisot, 1869, The National Gallery of Art , Washington, DC

Berthe Morisot planned to submit two paintings for the Paris Salon of 1870. One of them, namely The Port of Lorient , is, according to Berthe Morisot's biographer Anne Higonnet, one of the early highlights in Berthe Morisot's work. Masterfully executed in perspective, balance and color harmony, individual parts of the painting are apparently only fleetingly executed and unfinished. In its entirety, the picture gives the traditional impression of a landscape flooded with light. The depth effect that is awakened is astonishing. Berthe Morisot achieves this effect thanks to the use of a new way of painting: dynamically structured surfaces that make the brushstroke visible and by juxtaposing saturated colors. Édouard Manet also praised the high quality of the painting. The situation was different with the second painting that Berthe Morisot wanted to submit.

The Morisot painting , reworked by Manet , 1869/1870

It shows Berthe Morisot's mother reading next to Edma sitting on the sofa. The dimensions of this work are 101 by 82 centimeters. So it is much larger than most of Morisot's other paintings. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes , one of the family's painters friends, criticized what he saw as unsuccessful heads. Berthe Morisot then asked Édouard Manet for advice. He found the painting in order; he only found something to complain about at the lower edge of one of the dresses. With the help of Berthe Morisot's palette and brushes, he first set a few small accents, but then didn't leave it at that:

... once there, he was unstoppable; after the dress he took the bosom, after the bosom his head, and finally the background. He cracked one joke after the other, laughed like a madman, handed me the palette, took it from me again; by five o'clock in the afternoon we had created the best caricature ever to be seen.

According to Higonnet (1995), Morisot suffered from the consequences of this editing. She doubted whether she should actually exhibit the picture. Their hope that the jury would reject the painting was not fulfilled. Her mother managed to get the painting back, but withdrawing the painting would make it clear to Edouard Manet how much he had exceeded his limits. The strain was also reflected in increasing physical exhaustion. Ultimately, both pictures were shown successfully at the Paris Salon.

Morisot's work is characterized by its color compositions. On March 2, 1895, Morisot died in Paris of pneumonia.

Other works


  • Dominique Bona : Berthe Morisot, Le Secret de la femme en noir. Le Livre de Poche , 2002, ISBN 2-253-15347-8 .
  • Bernard Denvir: The Chronicle of Impressionism: An Intimate Diary of the Lives and World of the Great Artists. Thames & Hudson, London 2000, OCLC 43339405.
  • Anne Higonnet: Berthe Morisot. University of California Press, Berkeley 1995, ISBN 0-520-20156-6 .
  • Ingrid Pfeiffer and Max Hollein (eds.): Impressionists. Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond . Hatje Cantz, Ostfieldern 2008, ISBN 978-3-7757-2078-6 (exhibition catalog).
  • Ingrid Pfeiffer: Impressionists . Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2008, ISBN 3-7757-2078-2 .
  • Jane Turner: From Monet to Cézanne: late 19th-century French artists . Grove Art. St Martin's Press, New York 2000, ISBN 0-312-22971-2 .
  • Christina Haberlik, Ira Diana Mazzoni : 50 classics - artists, painters, sculptors and photographers. Gerstenberg, Hildesheim 2002, ISBN 978-3-8067-2532-2 , pp. 78-83, 87, 90-91.
  • Christiane Weidemann, Petra Larass, Melanie Klier: 50 women artists you should know. Prestel, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-7913-3957-3 , pp. 64-67.
  • Debra N. Mancoff: Women Who Changed Art. Prestel, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-7913-4732-5 , pp. 19, 30-31.

Web links

Commons : Berthe Morisot  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Higonnet, pp. 5-8 and Rouart, pp. 15-16.
  2. Higonnet, p. 8
  3. Higonnet, p. 14
  4. Roe, p. 85
  5. Higonnet, p. 19.
  6. Avec des natures comme celles de vos filles, ce ne sont pas des petits talents d'agrément que mon enseignement leur procurera; elles deviendront des peintres. Vous rendez-vous compte de ce que cela veut dire? In le milieu de grande bourgeoisie qui est le vôtre, ce sera une révolution, je dirais presque une catastrophe. Êtes-vous bien sûr de ne jamais maudire un jour l'art qui, une fois entré dans cette maison si respectablement paisible, deviendra le seul maître de la destinée de vos deux enfants.
  7. ^ Rouart, p. 23.
  8. Rouart, p. 21
  9. Higonnet, p. 33
  10. Higonnet, p. 34
  11. Higonnet, p. 33 and p. 34.
  12. Rouart, p. 30
  13. Rouart, p. 31.
  14. Roe, p. 13.
  15. Rouart, p. 24.
  16. Higonnet, p. 28.
  17. Higonnet, p. 51
  18. Higonnet, p. 49.
  19. Higonnet, p. 54
  20. Higonnet, S. 55th
  21. ^ Roe, p. 88
  22. Higonnet, S. 56th
  23. Roe, pp. 88-89
  24. Roe, pp. 89-91
  25. Rouart, p. 44
  26. Higonnet, p. 62
  27. see legend
  28. Roe, p. 103
  29. Higonnet, pp. 64–65 and Roe, p. 104.
  30. The artist's daughter