Berthe Morisot (January 14, 1841 - March 2, 1895) was a painter and a member of the circle of painters in Paris who became known as the Impressionists. Undervalued for over a century, possibly because she was a woman, she is now considered among the first league of Impressionist painters.
In 1864, she exhibited for the first time in the highly esteemed Salon de Paris. Sponsored by the government, and judged by academicians, the Salon was the official, annual exhibition of the Academie des beaux-arts in Paris. Her work was selected for exhibition in six subsequent Salons until, in 1874, she joined the "rejected" Impressionists in the first of their own exhibitions, which included Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. It was held at the studio of the photographer Nadar.
Morisot was born in Bourges, Cher, France into a successful bourgeois family. Both she and her sister, Edma Morisot, chose to become painters. Once Berthe Morisot settled on pursuing art, her family did not impede her career. She was born into a family that, according to family tradition, had included one of the most prolific Rococo painters of the ancien regime, Fragonard, whose handling of color and expressive, confident brushwork influenced later painters. By age twenty, she had met and befriended the important, and pivotal, landscape painter of the Barbizon School, Camille Corot, who excelled in figure painting as well.
The older artist instructed Berthe and her sister in painting and introduced them to other artists and teachers. Under Corot's influence, Morisot took up the plein air method of working. As art students, Berthe and Edma worked closely together until Edma married, had children, and no longer had time to paint so intensely as Berthe. Letters between them show a loving and cordial relationship, underscored by Berthe's regret at the distance between them and about Edma's withdrawal from painting. Edma wholeheartedly supported Berthe's continued work and the families of the two sisters always remained close.
Morisot's first appearance in the Salon de Paris came at the age of twenty-three in 1864, with the acceptance of two landscape paintings. She continued to show regularly in the Salon, to generally favorable reviews, until 1873, the year before the first Impressionists exhibition.
Meanwhile, in 1868 Morisot became acquainted with Edouard Manet. He took a special interest in Morisot, as is evident from his warm portrayal of her in several paintings, including a striking portrait study of Morisot in a black veil, while in mourning for her father's death (displayed at the top of the article). Correspondence between them bespeaks affection. He once gave her an easel as a Christmas present. He also interfered in one of her Salon submissions when he was engaged to transport it. Manet mistook one of Morisot's self-criticisms as an invitation to add his corrections, which he did, much to Morisot's dismay.
Although traditionally Manet has been related as the master and Morisot as the follower, there is evidence that their relationship was a reciprocating one. Morisot had developed her own distinctive artistic style. Records of paintings show Manet's approval and appreciation of certain stylistic and compositional decisions that Morisot originated. He incorporated some of these characteristics into his own work.
She also drew Manet into the circle of painters who soon became known as the Impressionists. In 1874, Morisot married Manet's brother, Eugene, and they had one daughter, Julie. Julie Manet became the subject for many of her mother's paintings and a book of her memoirs Growing Up with the Impressionists: The Diary of Julie Manet, was published in 1987.
As a doctrinaire Impressionist as well as a member of the haute bourgeoisie, Morisot painted what she experienced on a daily basis. Her paintings reflect the 19th century cultural restrictions of her class and gender. She avoided urban and street scenes as well as the nude figure and, like her fellow female Impressionist Mary Cassatt, focused on domestic life and portraits in which she could use family and personal friends as models. Paintings like The Cradle (1872), in which she depicted current trends for nursery furniture, reflect her sensitivity to fashion and advertising, both of which would have been apparent to her female audience.
Her works include not only landscapes, portraits, garden settings and boating scenes, but also subjects portraying the comfort and intimacy of family and domestic life, as did her colleagues, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassatt.
Berthe Morisot died on March 2, 1895 in Paris and was interred in the Cimetiere de Passy.