Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism
Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was a renowned French painter. She was an esteemed member of the group of painters in Paris, commonly referred to as the Impressionists. The Dulwich Picture Gallery showcases approximately 30 of Morisot’s exceptional artworks, sourced from various collections worldwide. It aims to highlight Morisot’s significant role as a pioneering figure within the Impressionist movement. She gained recognition for her ability to capture fleeting moments of everyday life and portray intimate scenes within domestic settings. Her work was prominently featured in the Impressionist exhibitions, and she defied societal conventions to become one of the movement’s most influential and esteemed figures.
The exhibition also features works by renowned artists like Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Fragonard, it incorporates new research and previously unreleased materials from the Musée Marmottan Monet. These resources help to reveal the sources of Morisot’s inspiration and demonstrate how she interacted with 18th century art and culture.
By examining these influences, the exhibition aims to highlight the originality of Morisot’s artistic vision. Despite engaging with the art and culture of her predecessors, Morisot managed to set herself apart from them through her unique approach and perspective. This aspect of her work is given special emphasis, showcasing her individuality and talent.
Summer Day, 1879, oil on canvas
Morisot was strategic about finding ways to work outdoors without attracting unwanted attention. She would often ask her husband Eugène to accompany her in order to provide a sense of security. Here, both the artist and models are seated in a boat, allowing Morisot to work undisturbed on the water.
Additionally, Morisot would start her work early in the morning, around half past six, in order to avoid curious onlookers. Model Marie Renard, believed to be the woman in blue in the artwork, remembered this habit. By starting early, Morisot would be able to complete her painting by nine o’clock, after which they would return to her home to enjoy a cup of coffee. This early start time allowed Morisot to work in peace before the area became crowded or drew attention from the public.
In the Bois de Boulogne, 1879, oil on canvas
Both the swiftly-brushed painting and Summer’s Day, were made outdoors on the same day in the Bois de Boulogne, a park near Morisot’s Paris home. Morisot posed the scenes using professional models, engaged in activities that reflect her own upper-middle-class life.
While the fashionable outfits and shimmering sunlight typify Impressionist preoccupations, commentators perceived a connection with eighteenth-century art. The art critic Charles Ephrussi remarked that Morisot worked with ‘a palette of crushed flower petals’ and commented: ‘This pleasant vivacity, sparkling and frivolous, recalls Fragonard’
Madame de Pompadour, c.1758, oil on canvas
James Tissot, The ball of Shipboard, c.1874, oil on canvas
“I like either extreme novelty or things from the past.” – Berthe Morisot
Connections & Discoveries
The first Impressionist exhibition took place in Paris from April to May 1874. In December that year Morisot married Eugene Maet, brother of the famous artist Edouard Manet. As well as capturing the elegance of the fashionable modern life, Morisot now also painted the everyday domesticity that underpinned it. This aspect of her art became more prominent following the birth of their daughter Julie in 1878. Morisot found both of these themes reflected in eighteenth-century painting. Her appreciation for the art of the past infused her images of modern life.
‘My ambition was limited to wanting to capture something of what goes by , just something, the smallest thing.’ -Berthe Morisot
The Dovecote at Mesnil, 1892, oil on canvas
In October 1891 Morisot and her husband purchased the historic Château du Mesnil, intending to create another elegant family home. Morisot wrote to her close friend, Mallarmé, ‘We are carried away by the desire to be in beautiful setting before we die’
Among Morisot’s most compelling works are portraits that she painted of her friends and family in the last decade of her life. The artist’s most constant subject was her daughter Julie, whose childhood she charted with unparalleled tenderness. Her nieces were also frequently invited to pose.
Children with a basin, 1886, oil on canvas
Morisot depicts her seven-year-old daughter Julie (left) playing with Marthe Givaudan. They are pretending to fish for goldfish in a large blue and white eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain bowl, a gift from Manet.
Berthe Morisot’s work continues to be celebrated and admired today. Her contribution to the Impressionist movement, as well as her defiance of social norms have solidified her place as one of the most influential female artists of her time. Her paintings offer a unique glimpse into the everyday moments and emotions of late 19th-century life, capturing the essence of a rapidly changing society.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Gallery Road, London SE21 7AD
By Karen Gomes