• Rose-Marie Marshall-Jane

Berthe Morisot, a female artist's profile.

A short bio

Berthe was born in 1841 to parents Edmé Morisot and Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas (a name that rivals mine for hyphens). She lived in Bourges, France with her two older sisters Yves and Edma and her younger brother Tiburce. In 1852 the family moved to Paris where Berthe lived out the rest of her short life.

Berthe’s father was a senior administrator in the local government and her mother was related to Rococo painter Jean-Honroe Fragonard. She had the support from her family and her husband, Eugéne Manet (Younger brother to Edouard Manet) who gave up his career in order to support hers. This was highly unusual for a husband to do in the 19th century, especially with such an uncertain career as an artist. However, Berthe and Eugéne were comfortable in their lifestyle which made it easier for Berthe to concentrate in her art with the support of her husband.

The second Impressionist exhibition began in Paris in 1876, a critic described the artists as “five or six lunatics, one of which is a woman.” Shock, horror. A woman dares to be an artist! Of course, none of the artists were lunatics. Just revolutionists.

Berthe Morisot was extremely self-critical, much like many artists are. However, in spite of her gender and lack of resources Berthe achieved success at the young age of 23 with acceptance into the Salon, Paris. She was at the forefront of French painters until she died 30 years later from pneumonia in 1895.

Female artists during this time were barred from cafés, bars and cabarets. However, this did not hinder her work as she was able to portray feminine life in the way no man can, from a first person perspective. Often her work shows the private, intimate parts of life as a woman. Her talent and skill in art earned her respect from her male equals. She produced art in a range of subjects including landscapes, still life’s, nudes and portraits. One of her favourite models was her own daughter, Julie.


Summer's Day - 1879

Summer's Day depicts two ladies on a boat gently drifting across a lake of river. A couple of ducks swim next to the boat and the dresses of the ladies are created with thick, almost scratchy looking brush strokes. The lady centred stares directly at the viewer whilst the lady to the far left gazes into the water. Even though the central lady looks posed as if sitting especially for Berthe to paint, the lady to the left suggests a moment captured in time. She is just coming into view of the artist whilst she is painting.

Eugéne Manet on the Isle of Wight - 1875

This painting shows Berthe's husband, Eugéne Manet perched on a backwards chair gazing through the window out into the cottage garden. The curtains are painted brilliantly and suggest the transparency of the fabric. I particularly admire the potted plants and how she has portrayed the light being captured on them. it's the little details that bring this painting together like the grid structures of the window panes, curtains and fence. The whole composition takes you through the painting. You start by focusing on Eugéne and how he is posed on his chair, then you are drawn to the window and the excellent portrayal of the glass which takes you through to the small pops of colour that are the flowers in the garden.

Julie Daydreaming - 1894

One of my personal favourites is Julie Daydreaming. The wistful, far away look of Julie stares right through the viewer as if in her mind she were somewhere else entirely. You want to ask Julie, penny for your thoughts? Although she looks almost bored, her heavy lidded eyes and head resting on her delicate hand suggests a relaxed Julie and Berthe has managed to capture this beautifully in her painting. I also love the brush strokes Berthe has created around the top of Julie's head, whether this is intentional or not it looks like a halo, to me this suggests Berthe's deep love for her daughter.

Berthe Morisot's style of painting was typical during this time. Her skill at creating an almost out of focus perspective of her subjects creates the impressionistic style of the era. It is no wonder she was one of the leading art figures in the 1800s.

Rococo - theatrical and ornamental style of painting, architecture and decoration in the mid to late 1700s.