Saturday, March 23, 2013

Berthe Morisot

From 15 November 2011 to 12 February 2012 and for the first time in Spain, the Museo Thyssen_Bornemisza presented a retrospective exhibition on the work of the female Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot. Through an important agreement reached with the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, more than 30 works from that collection will be shown alongside one loaned from the Fondatión Pierre Gianadda in Martigny (Switzerland) and others from the Thyssen collections. As a result, visitors will be able to appreciate Morisot’s elegant and luminous style, expressed in landscapes, scenes of everyday life and intimate female portraits. The thematic and chronological structure of the exhibition has been structured to run in parallel to the artist’s life and is divided into the following sections: Corot and outdoor Painting; Manet and the intimate Portrait; Painting Life, living Painting; Parks and Gardens; and The rural World. In each gallery Morisot’s works will be complemented by those of other artists who played important roles in her life including Corot, Boudin, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Monet and Pissarro.

Married to Manet’s brother Eugène, Berthe Morisot (Bourges, 1841 – Paris, 1895) was the first female painter to join the Impressionist group, which was the most avant-garde of its day. She participated in the now legendary First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874 and in other subsequent ones organised by the group. Morisot is a unique case in the history of 19th_century art in that she was a woman born into an upper middle class French family who succeeded in establishing an important career as an artist and one associated with a new movement that was widely rejected at the time.

The Psyche Mirror
, from the Museum’s Permanent Collection, was one of the paintings that Morisot presented at the Third Impressionist Exhibition of 1877 and provided the inspiration for this exhibition. Executed with a delicate handling of soft brushstrokes, it depicts a young woman dressing herself in a leisurely manner before an Empire style mirror, which was a piece of furniture that belonged to Morisot and which is now in the collection of the Musée Marmottan Monet, along with other items that belonged to the artist.

Morisot was always particularly interested in the study of light and colour, and also shared the other Impressionists’ focus on reflections of light. Her independent, even rebellious nature is evident in her work and the exhibition extends its focus to the role of women in late 19th-century France as Morisot was not just a great creative figure but also an urban, middle-class woman interested in fashion and in the active cultural life of the day, associating with intellectuals and artists such as Manet, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Mallarmé. Her focus on the depiction of the universe of female emotions and sensibilities was so intense that her friend the French poet Paul Valéry used to say that she “lived her painting and painted her life”.

As a young woman Berthe Morisot was taught both art and music. Official art training at the École des Beaux_Arts was not open to women but her dedication and abilities led her to continue her studies, together with her sister Edma, by taking the private classes that were open to young amateur painters. Among their teachers was Joseph_Benoît Guichard, who encouraged them to enter the Musée du Louvre as copyists, a traditional practice for young painters at this period. For three years Morisot copied a number of Venetian paintings and one of these, The Feast in the House of Simon after Veronese, opens the present exhibition.

The experience of working at the Louvre not only acted as an apprenticeship for Morisot, but also introduced her to Parisian artistic circles and it was in the Louvre in 1858 that she met Henri Fantin_Latour and Félix Bracquemond. In early 1860 and now pupils of Camille Corot, the Morisot sisters left the galleries of the Louvre and took to painting outdoors. The elderly Corot, who became their informal master, taught them his luminous manner of reflecting nature on the canvas, a lesson that Berthe Morisot would never forget. Having spent the summer in 1861 with “Papa” Corot, the two women continued to paint landscapes under the guidance of his pupil Achille Oudinot. The works on display in the second room dated from this period and reveal a style close to the artists of the Barbizon School such as Corot,Daubigny and Boudin.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight, 1875. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Berthe Morisot. Hollyhocks, 1884. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Berthe Morisot. The Garden at Bougival, 1884 Oil on canvas. 73 x 92 cm Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

It was through Fantin_Latour that the Morisot sisters met Édouard Manet in 1868 and Berthe became an important model in some of his paintings, including

Berthe Morisot. On the balcony, 1893. Pastel on paper. 47 x 56 cm. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The Balcony (1868-69), which was inspired by Goya’s Majas on the Balcony (ca.1808-12). From then on Berthe Morisot and Manet maintained a close personal and artistic relationship that also allowed Morisot to meet a group of young painters who were inspired by daily life and the rhythm of urban life to create a new type of loose, free painting that was remote from academic standards. Shortly afterwards, following the creation of a Society of Artists, which Morisot was invited to join, this type of painting would come to be termed “Impressionist”.

In 1869 Edma Morisot abandoned her artistic career after she married and left the family home and Berthe continued her activities alone. Her subject matter focused on interiors of the type that were first depicted by the Dutch painters and to which the Impressionists returned. Morisot’s was an intimate world filled with informally dressed women, sewing, reading and thinking, as well as mothers with their children and, on rare occasions, women engaged in public activities as seen, for example, in

Berthe Morisot. At the ball, 1875. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris Berthe Morisot.

At the Ball, a delicate oil that Morisot exhibited at the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876. It depicts a beautiful, elegantly dressed woman from the Parisian upper classes holding a fan. In 1890 and 1891 Morisot spent time in a country house to the north-west of Paris that had views of the Seine, painting the rural scenes now on display in the second section of the exhibition. Many of them include her daughter Julie who became an important motif in her work from the time of her birth in 1878, on occasions in the company of her cousin Jeannie Gobillard. Another regular model was Gabrièlle Dufous, a village girl who posed for various preparatory oil sketches and drawings for the final oil version of The reclining Shepherdess of 1891.

Berthe Morisot. Reclining nude sheperdess, 1891. Oil on canvas, 63 x 114 cm . Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Dufous also posed nude with the same headscarf in Reclining nude Shepherdess (1891) in which the treatment of the body is comparable to Renoir’s style at this period. After the death in 1892 of her husband Eugène, Berthe moved to an apartment near the Bois de Boulogne. The Bois became one of her preferred locations for finding subjects to paint and this great park functioned as an extension of her own home. Once again the close relationship between Morisot’s art and life was evident in the paintings exhibited in the section Parks and Gardens in which the tranquil, empty park resembles a private garden.