Published: January 15, 2002
LILLE, FRANCE – The Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille is holding the first major retrospective exhibition devoted to the work of the French painter Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) in 40 years. The exhibition takes place from Sunday, March 10 to Sunday, June 9 and will travel to the Fondation Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland, from June 20 to November 19.
Berthe Morisot’s directness and quick touch show her to be a true Impressionist and the exhibition demonstrates the important role she played within the Impressionist movement as well as focusing on her earlier work and later oeuvre. Around 100 canvases and some 40 watercolors, pastels and lithographs illustrate the development , flourishing and diversity of this headstrong artist. Ten portraits of Morisot by Edouard Manet complete this prestigious retrospective.
The works to be exhibited have been loaned by both private collectors and museums in America, Europe and Japan. Among the highlights are “Deux Soeurs sur en Canape,” 1869-75, and “Portrait de Madame Pontillon on Soeur de l’Artiste” 1869, from the National Gallery in Washington, and “:Jeune Femme de dos à sa toilette,” 1880, from the Art Institute in Chicago.
From the National Gallery in London there is “Jour d’été,” 1879, and from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris the famous “Le Berceau,” 1872. The Musée Fabre in Montpelier is lending “L’Eté,” 1878 and the Fuji Art Museum in Tokyo “Sur la terrasse,” 1874.
Berthe Morisot was born in 1841 in Bourges to an upper middle class family directly related to the great painter Fragonard. Together with her sister Edma, Berthe was taught to draw and paint by J.B. Guichard, who also introduced her to Corot.
Corot’s influence, however, did not prevent her from developing her own refreshing, spontaneous style. Subsequently, Morisot regularly attended the Salon.
Her introduction to Edouard Manet in 1868 was a turning point, and both painters influenced one another. For instance, Manet taught Morisot to use pastels, but she took the lead where painting in the open air was concerned.
Morisot also often sat for Manet and she married his brother Eugéne. While she studied the old masters, Morisot became fascinated by the quick, purposeful brush technique of Boucher and Fragonard. During her stay in London in 1875 and on the Isle of Wight she studied Turner’s technique and painted several sea views, including “Sur la terrasse.”
Next to notables such as Manet, Monet and Renoir, Morisot played her own part within Impressionism. The first controversial Impressionist exposition was held in 1874. Each year, Morisot would send paintings and works on paper to these provocative exhibitions, with the exception of 1878.
The last exhibition, in 1886, was actually organized by Morisot. Intellectuals and artists such as Corot, Renoir, Manet (Berthe married his brother Eugéne), Monet, Degas, Mary Cassatt and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé all used to get together at Berthe’s home.
As a typical Impressionist, Morisot painted in quick, purposeful brush strokes, and nothing can disguise her work method. In a short period of time, the canvas was covered in a sensation of colors, shapes and contrast, which means the visitor is not only confronted with the exhibition, but also with the way her art was created.
After 1877 Morisot’s canvases became larger, her brush strokes even looser and the compositions more ambitious.
Morisot’s artistic peak was around 1880. The exhibition shows larger paintings such as “L’Eté,” 1878, full of atmosphere, and “L’Hiver,” and beautiful portraits of society women painted half-length, filling the entire picture. “Jour d’été” shows two women sitting next to each other in a boat on a river – the one viewed full face and the other in profile – with a somewhat thinly painted waterscape in the background.
After the death of Manet in 1883, Morisot became influenced by Renoir, whom she considered to be one of her greatest friends. Both distanced themselves somewhat from Impressionism, saying they had exhausted its possibilities.
During the 1880s her brush danced across the canvas even more freely and boldly than before, shown on canvases such as “Enfant dans les roses trémières,” 1881, with its eye-catching brush technique, and “La leçon de couture,” 1885.
In large, aggressive brush strokes, full of vigor and enthusiastic directness, Morisot painted her daughter Julie, who is watching her nurse carefully while she is sewing, set against the backdrop of a window. In 1886 Morisot exhibited her work in America, but her first individual exhibition was in 1892, three years before her death.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically and thematically. A total of 150 paintings, pastels, watercolors – some of which have not been exhibited since the end of the Nineteenth Century – show her most beautiful and characteristic works. Morisot was a versatile painter. Her subjects were not limited to women and girls, but she was also partial to domestic scenes, inside as well as out, landscapes, beach scenes, and still lifes.
In addition to the famous “Le Berceau,” which is the image of modern motherhood for some time, and the colorfully festive “Jour d’été” she also painted a landscape with a prosaic subject like “Hanging the laundry out to dry.”
The special bond between Manet and Morisot shows in the portraits he painted of her. Ten of the total number of 12 portraits Manet painted of her between 1868 and 1874 form a valuable addition to the exhibition and a nice intermezzo. Manet portrays her in various poses and moods, the one time mockingly coquettish, the other melancholic, sometimes carefree, sometimes sad.
One of the most fascinating portraits is “Portrait de Berthe Morisot au banquet de violettes.” She looks at the visitor with large eyes, and the visitor will notice how the different shades of black in her hat and clothes produce a fantastic effect.
In 1868, Manet asked Berthe to pose for “Le balcon,” one of his most famous paintings. This magnificent work is also present at the exhibition, and shows Berthe as the sitting figure with the closed fan in her hand.
The Palais des Beaux-Arts is at 18 bis, rue de Valmy. Telephone, 330-320-06-78-00.
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