French painter of the 19th-century, Berthe Morisot, contributed to the development of the revolutionary movement of impressionist art helping to make it what it is today. Despite the restraints society placed on her gender, she was an accomplished artist who is regarded as one of the most important women painters in art history. Morisot once said, “Real painters understand with a brush in their hand”.
Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, France, on January 14, 1841, the daughter of a high-ranking government official and the grand-daughter of Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. In her youth, she received the conventional lessons in drawing and painting that were only aimed at nurturing a genteel hobby.
After moving to Paris with her family, young Berthe and her sister Edma received instructions in drawing and painting from legendary landscape artist Camille Corot in 1862. She formed a special bond with Edouard Manet during this time, and their friendship would inspire Manet to paint her in ‘The Balcony and Repose’, along with other portraits until she married his brother Eugène in 1874. It was rumored that she and Manet had fallen in love, but the two would just stay friends because he was married to someone else. Berthe gave birth to Julie in 1878, and while her sister had chosen to give up painting for marriage and motherhood, Berthe successfully managed both, including her career as a professional artist.
While many of the early impressionists were engaged in optical experiments with color, Morisot and Manet took a more conservative approach. ‘The Cradle’ reflects a very intimate atmosphere that characterizes her work. Large, free movement brushstrokes gave her paintings a transparent, iridescent quality.
When Berthe Morisot was just twenty-three, she exhibited two of her landscapes at the Salon and received encouraging reviews. She continued to participate through 1873. Her portrayal of the women in her life were often cast in outdoor settings such as boating parties, scenes that allowed her to explore the shimmering effects of light and water.
In 1874, Morisot was the first woman invited to join a group of impressionist painters that included Monet, Renoir and Camille Pissarro. They were impressed with her wide brushstroke technique applied on silvery-toned canvases of unfinished backgrounds. Later, her works displayed more contoured figures created with long brushstrokes that would follow, but did not emphasize the outlines. This method was used in an effort to gain mass and volume, unity and form.
While others abandoned the impressionist movement, Berthe Morisot remained faithful participating in seven of the eight exhibitions, and single-handedly organizing the final show in 1886. She continued to paint and exhibit in her later years, receiving her first solo exhibition only a few weeks after her husband’s death in 1892. She spent her last years in a château in Mesnil, until her death in 1895. Some of her most notable works include ‘Young Woman at the Dance’ and ‘La Toilette’.