The 18th century in the work of Berthe Morisot
About the exhibition "Berthe Morisot et l'art du XVIIIe s/Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Perronneau", on view until 3 March 2024 at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
Berthe Morisot, the famous "first female Impressionist", will never be forgotten. Her works of art, but also her life, like all the great figures who left their mark on their time. Biographies abound, and the exhibitions devoted to her are attracting increasing numbers of visitors, at a time when the status of women artists, forgotten by the history of art, is being widely debated and re-evaluated. The Musée d'Orsay in Paris will be staging a huge exhibition in 2019, featuring no fewer than 75 paintings by the painter who for so long had been referred to simply as "Edouard Manet's muse and friend", or "Edouard Manet's sister-in-law"...
It is true that Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) spent a lot of time with the famous Edouard Manet (1832-1883), and that he painted her on several occasions, but it was precisely because they were both painters, because they shared the same artistic passion, that they became so close in 1868, to the point that she married his brother Eugène in 1874, without ever signing her name other than that of her birth. I remember that the Orsay exhibition led me to believe that, as far as carnal passions were concerned, Edouard, who had already been married to Suzanne since 1863, and Berthe would also have had a lot to share, and that Eugène would never have been fooled, devoting himself entirely to the artistic development of his wife and brother, to the point of helping to finance the Impressionists' exhibitions. That's another debate... and perhaps another myth.
In 2019, Berthe Morisot was also said to be a descendant of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)! Her mother, Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie, is said to have been the great-grandniece of the illustrious exponent of the French Rococo style. This supposedly explains the "false eighteenth-century air" that pervades the Impressionist painter's portraits and genre scenes. But that myth is no more. For the exhibition "Berthe Morisot et l'art du XVIIIe s/Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Perronneau", on show at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris until 3 March 2024, the museum's curator and art historian, Claire Gooden, and genealogist Antoine Lefort, have cross-referenced sources and taken their studies much further, to finally be able to affirm that there is in fact no family link between the two families. Nevertheless, the influence of eighteenth-century painting on Berthe Morisot's work cannot be denied. "A hint of the eighteenth century exalted by the present", as Stéphane Mallarmé wrote of her. And with good reason! The young woman grew up in a bourgeois society where eighteenth-century art set the pace, having spent a large part of her life in the atmosphere of the private mansion of Léon Riesener, grandson of Louis XVI's cabinetmaker, decorated in the purest style of the Age of Enlightenment and where she posed, for example, for the artist Marcello.
Berthe was born in Bourges, two years after her sister Edma, who was born in Valenciennes, and three years after their eldest sister, named Yves, into a well-to-do middle-class family. Their father was none other than Edmé Tiburce Morisot, a former prefect who had worked hard to create the museums of Limoges. Berthe's mother soon had her daughters take drawing and painting lessons. Berthe was 11 when the family moved to Paris following her father's appointment to the Court of Auditors. With Edma, she went to the Louvre to make copies, where the two sisters met other copyists and students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, such as Henri Fantin-Latour and Edouard Manet. In 1857, the girls received their first lessons from the neo-classical painter Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne, but they did not like him at all...
As Edma and Berthe nevertheless wished to continue their lessons, their mother found them another teacher, Joseph Guichard, a former pupil of Ingres with a reputation for being an excellent teacher. Recognising Edma and Berthe's true talent, the painter from Lyon soon told their parents: "Your daughters are so inclined... they will become painters. Do you realise what that means? In your upper-middle-class environment, it will be a revolution, I could almost say a catastrophe. Are you sure you will never curse the day when art becomes the sole master of your two children's destiny? I guess not, since Edmé-Tiburce even built them a studio in the garden, and Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie always encouraged them to exercise their eye by visiting exhibitions.
Berthe was 19 when, in 1860, for example, three hundred works of art by Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jean-Siméon Chardin and many other 18th-century painters were exhibited at the Martinet art gallery in Paris. Judged frivolous and decadent just after the French Revolution, this art form is now making a comeback, including on museum walls. It is unimaginable that the young woman did not go and see them.
At the time of the copies at the Louvre, Fantin-Latour was full of praise for plein air painting, and the two sisters were keen to tell their teacher about their desire to discover this technique. Guichard entrusted them to the care of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. In 1861, the Morisot family rented a house in Ville-d'Avray so that the girls could work with the famous landscape painter. Corot also became a family friend, as did the Manet family, Charles-François Daubigny, Honoré Daumier and Émile Zola, whom they welcomed to their home on rue Franklin in Paris. Edma and Berthe benefited fully from the master's advice, from his taste for landscapes painted with quick, broad strokes, and from his extraordinary work on light, and his influence will be strongly felt in the style of the two sisters.
The teacher found both his pupils very gifted, but on reading Dominique Bona's biography of Berthe Morisot, we discover that he had a certain preference for Edma, whom he found "more diligent and easy-going"... Too easy, obviously, to continue an artistic career after marrying a naval officer... Yes, the two sisters were undoubtedly equally talented, but it seems that one was more passionate. While Edma gave up her artistic career in 1869 to devote herself to her family life, like countless women of the time to whom art was taught as a fashionable pastime, Berthe never gave up her brush. And even though she had a daughter with Eugène Manet, I don't doubt for a second that she warned him that she was not marrying to give up her career as a painter... quite the opposite.
When Corot stayed in Saintes, in the Charentes region, where he joined the plein air studio known as the "Port-Berteau group" with Gustave Courbet, Hippolyte Pradelles and others, he entrusted the Morisot sisters to his pupil, the landscape painter Achille Oudinot, whom he considered better suited to perfecting their training. He entrusted the Morisot sisters to his pupil, the landscape painter Achille Oudinot, whom he considered better suited than himself to perfect their training. Berthe and Edma Morisot took part in the Salons of 1865, 1866, 1867 and 1868. But when Berthe Morisot's art reached full maturity, when she became a muse of modern art with Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and all the others, and when she took part in almost all the Expressionist exhibitions until 1886... Edma, now known as "Madame Pontillon", was no more than the model for some of her works of art for sale.
Article written by Valibri en Roulotte