Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a French artist, painting and exhibiting alongside contemporaries such as Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Manet. Her drawing and painting style was impressionist, creating a bare impression of form and line. The rendering of light was crucial to her artwork. Barred entry into formal art schools because she was a woman, she learned privately with well known artists such as Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne who taught her the fundamentals of drawing. Surprisingly, she successfully exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon. Morisot later joined contemporary impressionist artists in their own exhibitions. In this slide presentation, we analyze 14 drawings of Berthe Morisot, with her most famous quotes.
She enjoyed plein-air painting, and for this she preferred watercolors, which are water based and easy to carry. Much of her watercolor paintings reveal a heavy emphasis on drawing, with a watercolor wash on top, adding color and depth. Her drawing tools consisted of charcoal, pastel, and colored pencils, and she used these media to clearly define form and line.
Berthe Morisot drew quick sketches as preparation for final pieces, making numerous studies of various subjects. After 1885, her art focused heavily on drawing. She had a multimedia artistic technique, often using oil paint, watercolors, and pastel together. She chose a limited color palette, skillfully creating interest, depth and transparency by using pure white or white mixed with other colors as a tint.
Various quotes about Morisot’s technique have been preserved. From a friend in the 1870’s: ‘…She always painted standing up, walking back and forth before the canvas. She would stare at her subject for a long time …her hand ready to place her brushstrokes just where she wanted them…to start with a light pencil-sketch, to repeat or very the theme in sanguine, to remodel the composition in pastel and, quite often, to carry forward the theme in watercolor and occasionally to carry it to a final culmination in a finished oil…’ (Quote source Wikiquote)
Trouble with the Art Critics
For Morisot, trouble with art critics was a common occurrence. In 1876, she participated in the second impressionist exhibition in Paris. One art critic, not too fond of the impressionist style, described the showing as populated by ‘five or six lunatics, one of which is a woman.’ Male critics described her artwork as ‘light’ and full of ‘feminine charm’. Morisot lamented that critics did not take her artwork seriously: ‘I do not think any man would ever treat a woman as his equal, and it is all I ask, because I know my worth’. Her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet said, ‘This woman’s work is exceptional. Too bad she’s not a man.’
Paul Durand-Ruel, a private art dealer, purchased twenty-two of Morisot’s paintings in 1872, advancing her career as an artist. However, even today, Morisot is still lesser known than her male impressionist contemporaries.
Drawing and Painting Subjects
Berthe Morisot’s artwork depicted what she saw and experienced. Her drawing and painting subjects consisted of family, children, ladies, flowers, landscapes, and portraits. As a woman, the full range of subject matter available to male artists was inaccessible to her. Urban life’s cafés, bars, and the poorer parts of the city were off-limits for a bourgeois French lady. However, her male contemporaries did not have access to the intimate aspects of feminine life, and it was these subjects that she skillfully rendered.
Death and Legacy
She died of pneumonia in Paris in 1895. Art critic Gustave Geffroy described Berthe Morisot as one of ‘the three great ladies’ of impressionism together with Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt. Paul Mantz, in his art-review, in Les Temps, 21 April, 1877, stated ‘…There is only one impressionist among the group of revolutionary impressionists, and that is Berthe Morisot…Her painting has all the freedom of improvisation, truly the ‘impression’ experienced by a sincere, honest eye, rendered by a hand that does not cheat.’