Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was a French painter and a member of the circle of painters in Paris who became known as the Impressionists.
In 1864, Morisot exhibited for the first time in the highly esteemed Salon de Paris. Sponsored by the government and judged by Academicians, the Salon was the official, annual exhibition of the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris. Her work was selected for exhibition in six subsequent Salons until, in 1874, she joined the "rejected" Impressionists in the first of their own exhibitions, which included Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. It was held at the studio of the photographer Nadar. Morisot went on to participate in all but one of the following eight impressionist exhibitions, between 1874 and 1886.
Morisot was married to Eugène Manet, the brother of her friend and colleague Édouard Manet.
She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of "les trois grandes dames" of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt.
Morisot was born January 14, 1841, in Bourges, France, into an affluent bourgeois family. Her father, Edmé Tiburce Morisot, was the prefect (senior administrator) of the department of Cher. He also studied architecture at École des Beaux Arts. Her mother, Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas, was the great-niece of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, one of the most prolific Rococo painters of the ancien régime. She had two older sisters, Yves (1838–1893) and Edma (1839–1921), plus a younger brother, Tiburce, born in 1848. The family moved to Paris in 1852, when Morisot was a child.
It was commonplace for daughters of bourgeois families to receive art education, so Berthe and her sisters Yves and Edma were taught privately by Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne and Joseph Guichard. Morisot and her sisters initially started taking lessons so that they could each make a drawing for their father for his birthday. In 1857 Guichard, who ran a school for girls in Rue des Moulins, introduced Berthe and Edma to the Louvre gallery where from 1858 they learned by copying paintings. The Morisots were not only forbidden to work at the museum unchaperoned, but they were also totally barred from formal training. Guichard also introduced them to the works of Gavarni.
As art students, Berthe and Edma worked closely together until 1869, when Edma married Adolphe Pontillon, a naval officer, moved to Cherbourg, and had less time to paint. Letters between the sisters show a loving relationship, underscored by Berthe's regret at the distance between them and Edma's withdrawal from painting. Edma wholeheartedly supported Berthe's continued work and their families always remained close. Edma wrote "… I am often with you in thought, dear Berthe. I’m in your studio and I like to slip away, if only for a quarter of an hour, to breathe that atmosphere that we shared for many years…".
Her sister Yves married Theodore Gobillard, a tax inspector, in 1866 and was painted by Edgar Degas as Mrs Theodore Gobillard (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City).
As a copyist at the Louvre, Morisot met and befriended other artists such as Manet and Monet. In 1861 she was introduced to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the pivotal landscape painter of the Barbizon school who also excelled in figure painting. Under Corot's influence she took up the plein air (outdoors) method of working. By 1863 she was studying under Achille Oudinot [fr], another Barbizon painter. In the winter of 1863–64 she studied sculpture under Aimé Millet, but none of her sculpture is known to survive.
It is hard to trace the stages of Morisot's training and to tell the exact influence of her teachers because she was never pleased with her work and she destroyed nearly all of the artworks she produced before 1869. Her first teacher, Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne, taught her the basics of drawing. After several months, Morisot began to take classes taught by Guichard. During this period, she drew mostly ancient classical figures. When Morisot expressed her interests in plein-air painting, Guichard sent her to follow Corot and Oudinot. Painting outdoors, she used watercolors which are easy to carry. At that time, Morisot also became interested in pastel.
During this period, Morisot still found oil painting difficult, and worked mostly in watercolor. Her choice of colors is rather restrained; however, the delicate repetition of hues renders a balanced effect. Due to specific characteristics of watercolors as a medium, Morisot was able to create a translucent atmosphere and feathery touch, which contribute to the freshness in her paintings.
Having become more confident about oil painting, Morisot worked in oil, watercolor and pastel at the same time, as Degas did. She painted very quickly but did much sketching as preparation, so she could paint "a mouth, eyes, and a nose with a single brushstroke." She made countless studies of her subjects, which were drawn from her life so she became quite familiar with them. When it became inconvenient to paint outdoors, the highly finished watercolors done in the preparatory stages allowed her to continue painting indoors later.
After 1885, drawing began to dominate in Morisot's works. Morisot actively experimented with charcoals and color pencils. Her reviving interest in drawing was motivated by her Impressionist friends, who are known for blurring forms. Morisot put her emphasis on the clarification of the form and lines during this period. In addition, she was influenced by photography and Japonisme. She adopted the style of placing objects away from the center of the composition from Japanese prints of the time.
Morisot started to use the technique of squaring and the medium of tracing paper to transcribe her drawing to the canvas exactly. By employing this new method, Morisot was able to create compositions with more complicated interaction between figures. She stressed the composition and the forms while her Impressionist brushstrokes still remained. Her original synthesis of the Impressionist touch with broad strokes and light reflections, and the graphic approach featured by clear lines, made her late works distinctive.
Because she was a female artist, Morisot's paintings were often labeled as being full of "feminine charm" by male critics, for their elegance and lightness. In 1890, Morisot wrote in a notebook about her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist: "I don't think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that's all I would have asked for, for I know I'm worth as much as they." Her light brushstrokes often led to critics using the verb "effleurer" (to touch lightly, brush against) to describe her technique. In her early life, Morisot painted in the open air as other Impressionists to look for truths in observation. Around 1880 she began painting on unprimed canvases—a technique Manet and Eva Gonzalès also experimented with at the time—and her brushwork became looser. In 1888–89, her brushstrokes transitioned from short, rapid strokes to long, sinuous ones that define form. The outer edges of her paintings were often left unfinished, allowing the canvas to show through and increasing the sense of spontaneity. After 1885, she worked mostly from preliminary drawings before beginning her oil paintings. She also worked in oil paint, watercolors, and pastel simultaneously, and sketched using various drawing media. Morisot's works are almost always small in scale.
Morisot creates a sense of space and depth through the use of color. Although her color palette was somewhat limited, her fellow impressionists regarded her as a "virtuoso colorist". She typically made expansive use of white to create a sense of transparency, whether used as a pure white or mixed with other colors. In her large painting, The Cherry Tree, colors are more vivid but are still used to emphasize form.
Inspired by Manet's drawings, she kept the use of color to the minimum when constructing a motif. Responding to the experiments conducted by Manet and Edgar Degas, Morisot used barely tinted whites to harmonize the paintings. Like Degas, she played with three media simultaneously in one painting: watercolor, pastel, and oil paints. In the second half of her career, she learned from Renoir by mimicking his motifs. She also shared an interest in keeping a balance between the density of figures and the atmospheric traits of light with Renoir in her later works.
Morisot painted what she experienced on a daily basis. Most of her paintings include domestic scenes of family, children, ladies, and flowers, depicting what women's life was like in the late nineteenth century. Instead of portraying the public space and the society, Morisot preferred private, intimate scenes. It somehow reflects the cultural restrictions of her class and gender at that time. Like her fellow Impressionist Mary Cassatt, she focused on domestic life and portraits in which she could use family and personal friends as models, including her daughter Julie and sister Edma. The stenographic presentation of her daily life conveys a strong hope to stop the fleeting passage of time. By portraying flowers, she used metaphors to celebrate womanhood. Prior to the 1860s, Morisot painted subjects in line with the Barbizon school before turning to scenes of contemporary femininity. Paintings like The Cradle (1872), in which she depicted current trends for nursery furniture, reflect her sensitivity to fashion and advertising, both of which would have been apparent to her female audience. Her works also include landscapes, garden settings, boating scenes, and theme of boredom or ennui. Later in her career Morisot worked with more ambitious themes, such as nudes. In her late works, she often referred to the past to recall the memory of her earlier life and youth, and her departed companions.
Morisot's first appearance in the Salon de Paris came at the age of twenty-three in 1864, with the acceptance of two landscape paintings. She continued to show regularly in the Salon, to generally favorable reviews, until 1873, the year before the first Impressionist exhibition. She exhibited with the Impressionists from 1874 onwards, only missing the exhibition in 1878 when her daughter was born.
Impressionism's alleged attachment to brilliant color, sensual surface effects, and fleeting sensory perceptions led a number of critics to assert in retrospect that this style, once primarily the battlefield of insouciant, combative males, was inherently feminine and best suited to women's weaker temperaments, lesser intellectual capabilities, and greater sensibility.
During Morisot's 1874 exhibition with the Impressionists, such as Monet and Manet, Le Figaro critic Albert Wolff noted that the Impressionists consisted of "five or six lunatics of which one is a woman...[whose] feminine grace is maintained amid the outpourings of a delirious mind."
Morisot's mature career began in 1872. She found an audience for her work with Durand-Ruel, the private dealer, who bought twenty-two paintings. In 1877, she was described by the critic for Le Temps as the "one real Impressionist in this group." She chose to exhibit under her full maiden name instead of using a pseudonym or her married name. As her skill and style improved, many began to rethink their opinion toward Morisot. In the 1880 exhibition, many reviews judged Morisot among the best, even including Le Figaro critic Albert Wolff.
Morisot came from an eminent family, the daughter of a government official and the great-niece of a famous Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard. She met her longtime friend and colleague, Édouard Manet, in 1868. By the introduction of Manet, Morisot was married to Édouard's brother, Eugène Manet in 1874. On November 14, 1878, she gave birth to her only child, Julie, who posed frequently for her mother and other Impressionist artists, including Renoir and her uncle Édouard.
Correspondence between Morisot and Édouard Manet shows warm affection, and Manet gave her an easel as a Christmas present. Morisot often posed for Manet and there are several portrait painting of Morisot such as Repose (Portrait of Berthe Morisot) and Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet. Morisot died on March 2, 1895, in Paris, of pneumonia contracted while attending to her daughter Julie's similar illness, thus making Julie an orphan at the age of 16. She was interred in the Cimetière de Passy.