Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist

Here are five fun facts from what we learned at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia on our recent Artful Circle visit….

Detail from “The Swing” by Fragonard, ca. 1767

#1: Berthe’s mother, Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas, was the great-niece of Jean-Honore Fragonard. Berthe had a privileged upbringing in Bourges and Paris, France.

Edma Morisot, “Berthe Morisot Painting” 1865

#2: Berthe and her sister Edma were registered as Old Masters copyists at the Louvre in 1858. The sisters were forbidden to work at the museum unchaperoned, so their mother escorted them. She always supported their love of art. There, they met Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and learned landscape painting. Edma married and stopped painting, but Berthe painted professionally throughout her life.

#3: Berthe exhibited at the prestigious Salon de Paris, but later exhibited only with the Impressionist circle of artists, including Manet, Monet, Renoir and Degas. In 1874, Le Figaro critic Albert Wolff said the Impressionists were “5 or 6 lunatics of which one is a woman [whose] feminine grace is maintained amid the outpourings of a delirious mind.”

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872

#4: Because of her social status, she could not convene at the cafes where her male colleagues frequented. Instead, she focused on subjects depicting domestic life with friends and family – all scenes of contemporary femininity. She painted day-to-day experiences at home, such as tending to children in the nursery, primping in dressing room, gardening, or performing household tasks.

Berthe Morisot, “Eugene Manet & his daughter at Bougival” 1881

Finally, at age 33, Berthe married Eugene, brother of Edouard Manet (also an artist, but never reached the same fame as his brother), and they had a daughter, Julia, four years later. Berthe was a working mother and never even changed her last name to Manet!

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