Although I could write numerous blogs about Berthe Morisot and her works, this is not a Berthe Morisot site and therefore after today’s offering I will drag myself away from this talented artist and head for pastures new. However today I want to focus on Berthe Morisot, her husband and her daughter and have a look at a couple of her paintings which portray the happy family.
As I wrote in my last blog, in 1868, Berthe Morisot had been introduced to Édouard Manet by Henri Fantin-Latour whilst she was working as a copyist at the Louvre. Over time the Morisot and the Manet family became close friends and would exchange visits to each other’s houses and during this time Berthe became acquainted with Édouard Manet’s brothers, Gusatve and Eugène.
When her sister Edma married Adolphe Pontillon in 1869 she moved to Lorient and gave up painting. For her, and despite having exhibited at four Salons, she considered her marriage was far more important than any thoughts she may have had of an artistic career. She was determined to channel all her energy into her marriage, playing the role of a supporting wife to her naval officer husband and being a loving and devoted mother to their children. On the other hand, Berthe on her marriage to Eugène Manet in December 1874 was adamant that the change in her marital status would not affect her art. She continued to paint as prolifically as before and kept signing her works in her maiden name. In many ways she was fortunate that Eugène’s attitude to her work was one of support and often when Berthe set off on painting trips he would accompany her and dabble a little in art himself by making a few sketches. Berthe was also fortunate not to have any money worries and this allowed her to pursue her artistic career without being anxious about where the next centime was coming from.
My Daily Art Display featured painting today, which is housed in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, is entitled Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight and is one which Berthe Morisot completed in 1875 when she and her husband spent the summer in Cowes on the Isle of Wight on their honeymoon. This, at the time, was a favoured holiday destination for the English high society. They visited the town of Rye several times before they moved on to London. Whilst on the Isle of Wight Berthe spent most of her time painting. Often she and Eugène would be seen leaving their lodgings carrying easels and paint boxes which they would position at some site of natural beauty and spend the day recording the beauty of the island. Often Berthe would set up her easel in their hotel room and paint what they could see from their window. Today’s work is an example of just that. She managed to persuade Eugène, with some difficulty, to pose for her looking out of the window. She wrote to Edma about the problems of getting her husband to pose, saying:
“…I began something in the sitting room with Eugène; poor Eugène is taking your place; but he is a much less accommodating model; he’s quickly had enough…”
The view from the window is of the port of Cowes but the painting is all about her husband Eugène Manet and the little cottage garden in front of the residence. It is interesting to observe how Morisot has painted the window panes and the gauze curtains to convey transparency. The flowers in the garden and the potted plants on the window sill add a dash of colour but in the main Morisot has used muted greys, blacks and blues in her work. There is a grid-like structure to the painting with the vertical and horizontal lines of the window frame, window sill and garden fencing as well as Eugène’s boater. Apparently Morisot found it quite difficult to paint this kind of picture and found the task both frustrating and in some ways depressing. This again is an example of Morisot’s perfectionism and the problems inherent in that state of mind. She wrote to Edma about the work saying:
“…The view from my window is very pretty to see, very ugly to paint; views from above are almost always incomprehensible; the upshot is that I am not doing very much, and the little I do looks frightful…”
In November 1878, almost four years after Eugène and Berthe married, Berthe gave birth to a daughter, Julie, who was to be their one and only child. Berthe featured her daughter prominently in many of her future paintings as did her sisters and family members. I particularly like the painting she did in 1883, entitled Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden. The setting is the garden on the Bougival estate where they were staying that summer. Unlike some of her works which also featured her husband and daughter, this painting depicts a more private world of Eugène and Julie. Eugène is dressed casually in an artist’s smock with a straw hat atop his head. Julie, dressed in her light blue summer dress, sits by the pond watching her tiny red sailing boat drifting on the water. There is no sign of their house in the painting but the natural setting enhances the loving father/daughter relationship. Morisot had always intended the painting to be a private family work and no doubt for that very reason she never exhibited it during her lifetime. It was not seen by the public until 1896, a year after her death. The work was one of her daughter’s particular favourites, as Julie commented on the scene with her father saying:
“..he gazes with a father’s eyes on the little blonde girl in a white dress who is intent on getting boats to move around the pond…”
I will now leave the life and paintings of Morisot for a little while but will undoubtedly return to showcase some of her other beautiful work at a later date. If you are interested in Berthe Morisot and her life I suggest you read Berthe Morisot by Anne Higonnet, which gives a fascinating insight into Berthe Morisot’s life, her family and the people she mixes with. It is a great read.