A Woman Impressionist the World Never Really Knew
Painter Berthe Morisot was praised by a fellow artist as ``a splendid feminine talent ... who brought honor to our impressionist group.'' Influencial, but often overlooked, Morisot shared world of 19th-century Paris with Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. Today and tomorrow the Home Forum examines the work of these three artists and the influence they had on each other. BERTHE MORISOT, the painter of this spacious view of Paris, was very important to the Impressionist movement. Although highly respected by her colleagues, she was never widely popular during her lifetime and has been neglected and undervalued by art historians ever since. Morisot painted this impressionistic canvas before the group had their first exhibition and before it received its name.Skip to next paragraph
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This view was probably a favorite spot of hers. Although Morisot traveled widely in Europe during her adulthood - from the time her parents moved to Paris when she was a little girl - all her residences were in this affluent district, once the village of Passy. But even in Morisot's day, it was called the 16th arrondissement. A reminiscence by her younger brother recounts how their father escorted his daughters from their first art lesson climbing up this same Trocad'ero hill.
For all its apparent simplicity, the painting is a complex canvas. The green swath which lends such abstract compositional beauty and firmness is a steep lawn showing a glimpse of red flowers in the gardens tucked under the hill. Wide carriage paths lead to the Pont d'I'ena, a bridge built over the Seine by Napoleon to commemorate one of his victories. The dome of the H^otel des Invalides gleams golden behind the bridge with the cupola of the Pantheon to the right. The squarish towers of Notre Dame are faintly discernable, mistily gray, in the center of the horizon. Even in Morisot's lifetime, this view was radically changed by the erection of the Eiffel Tower in the Champs de Mars which is the open area beyond the bridge.
These features are indicated with absolute tonal clarity and exact, though summary, brushstrokes. Later when the Impressionists became more respected a critic noted about Morisot, ``She eliminates cumbersome epithets and heavy adverbs in her terse sentence. Everything is subject and verb. She has a kind of telegraphic style....''
The two women in the painting were probably posed by the sisters of the artist and the little girl whom we gladly follow into the scene, a niece. The fact that family members were usually her models stems from her 19th-century haut bourgeois environment. It was not considered good form for a woman to paint men, so while she did a couple of paintings of her husband, Eug`ene Manet, they are not portraits but ``family'' subjects showing him with their small daughter, Julie. Women were not permitted to take drawing classes in the government Ecole des Beaux Arts because of the male models.
It was, in fact, extraordinarily strong-minded of Morisot to devote her life to painting professionally. Yet somehow she managed never to step out of the constricted bounds of her upbringing. She was fortunate to have very supportive parents. Her father counted the court painter, Fragonard, in his family tree. It was at her mother's suggestion that she and her sisters first took drawing lessons. Later when she and a painting companion were learning from Camille Corot (who did not take formal pupils), her mother extended a weekly dinner invitation to the famous landscape painter so that her daughters might benefit from his criticism. The young ladies, of course, could not join the informal discussion evenings Corot held with his male followers.