A painter who held her own among famous Impressionist friends

If no artist is an island, then all artistic expression becomes a balance between individual talent and connection with other artists.

This premise was demonstrably true in the artistic career of Berthe Morisot - perhaps the foremost woman painter of the Impressionist movement.

A new exhibition, "Berthe Morisot: An Impressionist and her Circle" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. reveals the extent to which Morisot's identity was shaped by the influence and support of other artists - in her case the extraordinary constellation of artistic family and friends that surrounded her in late 19th-century Paris.

The show brings together canvases by Morisot with paintings and drawings by her artistic colleagues. Her works are juxtaposed with those of Edouard Manet, who eventually became her brother-in-law; Claude Monet, a mentor; Auguste Renoir, whose style she at times echoed; and Edgar Degas, who invited Morisot to join the Impressionists. The paintings by these masters in the exhibit have been loaned by the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, many from the collection begun by Morisot herself.

In this distinguished company, Morisot holds her own. Her portrait of her husband, "Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight, 1875" shows a strong sense of composition worthy of his brother Edouard. Morisot's skill as an Impressionist, reminiscent of Monet, is evident in the rendering of the garden in the background of "Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden at Bougival, 1881." One of Monet's own waterlily paintings has been included in the exhibit as a point of comparison.

But Morisot is perhaps most frequently compared to another woman artist - her friend and colleague Mary Cassatt, the American expatriate painter of family life. Unlike Cassatt, though, Morisot was actually a mother - and her daughter, Julie Manet, was a frequent subject.

Morisot's "Children at the Basin," which includes a portrait of Julie, expresses the exuberance of real children. In turn, Morisot taught Julie to paint and imbued her daughter with a lifelong love of art. Canvases by Julie Manet are included in the show.

In the painting pictured here, Morisot's generous, flowing brush strokes concoct a portrait that brings together - in palette, composition, and style - hints of the masters in her circle. Yet the style remains her own.

"Berthe Morisot: An Impressionist and Her Circle" is at the National Museum of Women in the Arts until May 8. The show then travels to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville from June 7 to Sept. 18, and then to the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tenn., from Oct. 7 to Jan. 26, 2006.

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