Berthe Morisot au musée d’Orsay : une rétrospective rare d’une grande artiste

Grâce à de nombreux prêts, le musée d’Orsay propose une rétrospective exceptionnelle de Berthe Morisot, un des grands noms de l’impressionnisme

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) is not a dilettante painter, who would have exercised her talent as a bourgeois woman educated in the arts, in the shadow of Manet, Renoir and Monet, but a true professional painter, a founding figure of the Impressionism which exercised an art full of daring and modernity: this is shown by an exceptional exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay , which had never devoted a retrospective to him.

This is an event because of the 75 or so works collected at the Musée d’Orsay, half (37) come from private collections, only a dozen from French museums, the others are lent by foreign museums. Indeed, French public collections have been slow to take Berthe Morisot seriously and have very few of his works, while collectors and American museums have quickly bought his paintings. The exhibition shows paintings that have never been seen in France for decades.

Berthe Morisot, \ "Autoportrait \", 1885, Paris, Marmottan-Claude Monet Museum, Denis and Annie Rouart Foundation, Annie Rouart bequest, 1993
Self portrait

Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges in 1841 into a bourgeois family (her father, then, is prefect). Her future wife and mother at home are all drawn. But his mother, open to the arts, teaches music and painting to her three daughters. It is not a career, but the two younger girls, Berthe and Edma, show a talent that leads them from a particular course to a certain Geoffroy Alphonse Chocarne to the Louvre where they copy the classics, from 1858. There they meet Henri Fantin-Latour, before meeting Corot. 

The two Morisot girls exhibit at the Salon in 1964 (Berthe will be there almost every year for ten years). They meet Edouard Manet who finds them “charming” . It’s only a shame “that they are not men,” he says.

Edma returns to the rank in 1869: she marries a naval officer and gives up painting. Yet she was talented, as shown by a portrait of her sister from 1865, which opens the exhibition. Berthe continues to paint more than ever. She lost her favorite model, left to Lorient with her husband. Manet, fascinated by the dark beauty of Berthe, made her portrait twelve times, until she married the brother of the painter, Eugène Manet, at the age of 33 years. There is no question for her to stop. She even continues to sign her paintings of her maiden name.

Berthe Morisot, "The Butterfly Hunt", 1874, Paris, musée d'Orsay, donation Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, 1906

“The intention to emancipate myself”

“I will obtain (my independence) only by perseverance and by showing very openly the intention to emancipate myself,” she wrote in 1871. On her only painted self-portrait, dated 1885, she will show herself at work , the palette in hand and the air extremely voluntary. 

The year of her marriage, in 1874, Berthe Morisot participated in the first exhibition “Impressionist”: organized by the Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, in reaction to the official Salon, the exhibition is so named pejorative by critics. She is the only woman with Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne or Camille Pissarro, and will participate in all the exhibitions of the group: she misses only that of 1878 because she has just given birth.

In 1874, she presented Le Cribeau , on which we see Edma watching her daughter sleep, her arm resting on the baby’s bed. We see his virtuosity in painting the shades of white and the transparencies of the veil that covers it.

All the shades of the white

The artist will spend his life painting figures. Inside or outside, in gardens and parks. Admittedly, she represents the bourgeois and feminine universe, the only one to which it was fitting that she should accede. She paints the elegant toilets of young women, excelling there again to make all the shades and light of the white prom dresses. She also represents with tenderness and respect the female house staff who work at her home. 

The white, the gray, the pink, she still declines in beautiful scenes of toilet, where she captures young models to jump from bed or in front of their mirror, half-naked, in his own room.

After her sister’s debut, her only daughter Julie will be her favorite model. Female theme as the theme of childhood? Perhaps, but Berthe Morisot, a professional painter, also paints paternity: the exhibition presents three paintings showing Mr. Manet taking care of his daughter in the garden, in very touching scenes that reverse the roles clearly assigned to the sexes. ‘time. The angles of these paintings are little covered with paint, the key concentrating in the center and on the figures.

The shapes seem to dissolve 

At this time, in the 1880s, the touch becomes more allusive and the artist develops an unfinished style. When Julie, squatting, makes the Pâtés de sable , we do not see hands blurred, no pates, no sand. Everything is in the intensity of the child’s posture. The process is pushed to the extreme in the Portrait of Miss Lambert, says Isabelle in the garden  : the vegetation is barely evoked by a little green around the figure, flowers by a few yellow and purple strokes in front of her.

The forms often seem to dissolve, blend into the environment, that of a child playing on the beach of Nice in the sand, that of the hands of a young woman sewing in the garden or those of the skirts of two ladies picking flowers .

Berthe Morisot says she wants to fix something that happens , and her touch, fast, more sketched, is gaining momentum. In Jeune fille à la poupée , the feet of the child sitting on an armchair are deliberately unfinished, giving an impression of movement.

The vibration of music

In the 1880s, she also imagined sophisticated compositions in which she blurred the line between the inside and the outside, communicating through windows, verandas, windows, thresholds where her models were placed, lit by the light from outside. 

Until death, early (she succumbs to a flu at the age of 54 years), Berthe Morisot is renewed: we notice the renoir’s accents of the last canvases or the vibration of the music she seems to seize when she paints his daughter on violin in 1893 and 1894.

Do not miss this opportunity to discover or rediscover a great artist in every facet of his work.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) 
Orsay Museum
1, rue de la Legion, 75007 Paris 
Every day except Monday, 9.30am-6pm, Thursday until 9:45 pm 
Prices: 14 € / 11 € 
From June 18th as of September 22, 2019  

Source: Berthe Morisot au musée d’Orsay : une rétrospective rare d’une grande artiste

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