Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès (1874)

I had intended this offering to be my previous blog but when I researched into today’s featured artist and her painting I saw there was a connection between this work of hers and a similar one completed by Renoir in that same year.  My Daily Art Display featured artist today is Eva Gonzalès and the work I want to look at is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) which she completed in 1874.

Eva Gonzalès was born in Paris in 1849.  Her father was the novelist and playwright, Emmanuel Gonzalès, a Spaniard but naturalised French.  Her mother was a Belgian musician.  From her childhood she was immersed in the literary world as her parents house was often used as a meeting place for critics and writers.

Eva began her artistic career in 1865, at the age of sixteen, when she began to study art.  Initially she studied under Charles Joshua Chaplin, the French society portraitist, who ran art classes specifically for women in his atelier and who, the following year, would teach the American female artist Mary Cassatt.

Portrait of Eva Gonzalès by Manet

Just before her twentieth birthday in 1869 she became a pupil of Édouard Manet and also used to model for him and many of the other Impressionist artists.  It was whilst at his studio that she met Berthe Morisot who was also working with Manet and posing for some of his works.  There would seem to have been an intense  rivalry between the two females.  According to Anne Higonnet’s book Berthe Morisot, Morisot wrote to her sister about Gonzalès and Manet’s attitude towards her saying:

“… Manet preaches at me and offers me the inevitable Mlle Gonzalès as an example; she has bearing, perseverance, she knows how to carry something through, whereas I am not capable of anything.   In the meantime, he begins her portrait again for the twenty-fifth time; she poses every day, and every evening her head is washed out with black soap.  Now that’s encouraging when you ask people to model…”

Repose by Édouard Manet

One can easily detect Berthe Morisot’s jealousy of Eva Gonzalès in that passage.  The painting referred to by Berthe Morisot was entitled Portrait of Eva Gonzalès which Manet was working on and which he exhibited in the 1870 Salon.  It is now housed at the National Gallery, London.  At the same time that he was painting the portrait of Eva Gonzalès he was also painting a work entitled Repose which was a portrait of Morisot and which he also exhibited at the 1870 Salon, as almost a companion piece.  This portrait of Morisot can be seen in the Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art, Providence, Rhode Island.  As you can see by the passage above, Morisot was annoyed by Manet’s painting of Gonzalès.   What rankled Morisot the most was probably how Manet had portrayed the two young ladies.    So what could have annoyed Morisot about Manet’s depiction of her?  Look at the two paintings.  Both young women, both wear similar clothing, both have been portrayed as young and pretty but the one big difference is that Morisot is depicted half laying back on the sofa in what one could describe as a languid and idle pose whereas Eva is portrayed as a budding artist actively at work.   What also should be kept in mind is that Morisot did not look upon herself as merely a “pupil” of Manet.  For Morisot,  her relationship with Manet was almost as equals rather than master and pupil.  In her relationship with Manet, she was also much more forceful and self-confident than Gonzalès, who was more of a willing disciple of Manet and who would put up with Manet’s abrupt manner,  whilst continually absorbing his teaching.   Of course there was another significant difference between the two young women – age!   Eva was more than eight years younger than Morisot.

Unlike Morisot, but like her mentor Manet, Eva Gonzalès decided not to exhibit any of her work at the controversial Impressionist Exhibitions but she has always been grouped with them because of her painting style.   However, she did regularly have her work shown at the annual Salon exhibitions in the 1870’s.  Her works received mixed comments.  The critics who were supporters of the Impressionist artist liked her work.

Portrait of Jeanne Gonzalès in Profile by Eva Gonzalès

In 1869 Eva married Henri Charles Guérard, an etcher, lithographer  and printmaker, who was a close friend and sometime-model for Édouard Manet and who modelled for some of his wife’s paintings along with his sister-in-law Jeanne (La femme en rose, Jeanne Gonzelès).  In 1883, a month after her 34th birthday, she gave birth to a son, John.  Sadly, her life was cut short when she died following complications of childbirth.  It was believed to have been Puerperal Fever.    Her death came just six days after the death of her one-time mentor Édourad Manet.   Two years after her death a retrospective of Gonzalès’ work was held at the Salons de La Vie Moderne in Paris where over eighty of her paintings were put on display.

Five years later, in 1888, Henri-Charles Guérard  married Eva’s younger sister, Jeanne Gonzalès, also an artist.   My featured painting by Eva Gonzalès is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) and you can obviously see the similarity between her painting and my previous offering entitled La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  I decided to feature his first and then let you compare her painting with his.

As I discussed in my last blog, the auditorium of a  theatre and especially the theatre box were fashionable places for an exchange of society chit-chat and gave the theatregoers the opportunity to be seen at their best.  The subject of the theatre and theatre goers was a subject frequently chosen by the Impressionists, such as Cassatt and Degas but probably the most celebrated of this genre was Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box) and it is interesting to compare it with this work by Eva Gonzalès which she completed in the same year, 1874.  This painting by Gonzalès was submitted to the Salon jurists for inclusion in the 1874 Salon but was refused.   Eva Gonzalès then made some changes to the painting and five years later submitted it to the 1879 Salon and this time it was accepted.  The critics loved the work.

There are some similarities to this painting of hers and that of her former tutor Édouard Manet in the way she, like him, chose to paint a modern-day subject and the way her painting, like some of his, shows a total contrast between the light colours of the clothing of the subject and the pale creamy skin of the female and the dark background.   In stark contrast to the dark velvet edge of the box , we see her white-gloved hand with its gold bracelet casually resting along it.   There is also an uncanny similarity between the bouquet of flowers that rests on the edge of the theatre box to the left of the woman in Gonzalès’ painting and the bouquet of flowers which Manet depicted in his painting, Olympia (see My Daily Art Display October 12th 2011).  The two people who were sitters for Eva’s painting were her husband, Henri Guérard and her sister Jeanne who as I said before was to become Henri’s second wife.

As was the case in Renoir’s painting we are left to our own devices as to what is going on within the theatre box. We need to make up our own minds as to what the relationship is between the man and the woman and to their social standing in society.  There is little symbolism to help us interpret the scene.  We just have to use our own imagination and sometimes that adds to the joy os looking at a work of art.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight and Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden by Berthe Morisot

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.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight by Berthe Morisot (1875)

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…”

Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden by Berthe Morisot (1883)

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.

Portrait of Cornélie Morisot and Edmé Pontillon (Mother and Sister of the Artist) by Berthe Morisot

Portrait of Cornélie Morisot and Edmé Pontillon (Mother and Sister of the Artist) by Berthe Morisot (1870)
” Your daughters have such inclinations…they will become painters. Do you realize what that means? In your environment of the upper middle class this will be a revolution, I might almost say a catastrophe.   Are you sure that you will never curse the day that art will become the only master of destiny of your two children? “

That was the question Joseph Guichard, art tutor of Berthe and Edma Morisot, asked their mother.  Did she really want her two daughters to strive to become professional artists?  In that era, although artistic ability and aptitude were encouraged of young ladies there was a definite line between the professional and the amateur artist and it was a line which was both very precise and thickly drawn.  Women could spend their time “playing” at art as amateurs but for a woman to want to become a professional artist was often both derided and frowned upon.   Their mother, Marie Cornélie Morisot, however, was adamant that the girls should carry on with their chosen careers even if it meant they had to perform twice as well as their male counterparts just to get recognised as professional painters.  Berthe and Edma’s parents were very supportive and gave constructive encouragement to the painting aspirations of their daughters.  Their father had a studio built in the garden for Edma and Berthe to work in and his wife made sure that she went to all of their exhibitions where she carefully listened in on the viewers’ comments, and reported her findings back to the girls.

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog, the twelve-year painting partnership of the two sisters came to an end in early 1869 when Edma Morisot married a naval officer, Adolphe Pontillon.  There was a close relationship between the two Morisot sisters, both in their personal and artistic lives. Only two examples of Edma Morisot’s work survives, one is an 1863 portrait of her sister Berthe at work which was the featured painting in my last blog (My Daily Art Display, April 9th 2012).   Whether it was Edma’s marriage to Pontillon in 1869 or the start of the Franco-Prussian War the following year but something caused Berthe to seriously review both her personal and artistic life.  Although her sister had married and decided to forego her art, Berthe decided that she would stay single and concentrate on her artistic career.  Berthe was a perfectionist and was continually evaluating her work and, if anything, she was utterly self-critical and constantly questioned the value of what she had painted, and this was despite having her works accepted by the jurists of the Paris Salon.

Berthe Morisot was a copyist at the Louvre and it was here one day in 1868 that she met the French painter, Henri Fantin-Latour, who in turn introduced her to the painter, Édouard Manet.  Berthe was soon persuaded to become one of Manet’s models and during their long and close friendship he painted no fewer than eleven portraits of her. Édouard Manet was one of the new generation of artists who was unhappy with the Salon and the way the jurists held sway over what paintings would be allowed into the Salon’s  annual exhibitions.  Two of his works put forward to the jurists of the Salon had caused controversy.    His paintings Olympia (My Daily Art Display Oct 12th 2011) and Le Déjeunier Sur L’herbe (My Daily Art Display Dec 23rd 2010)  were controversial enough for them to be excluded from being exhibited at the Salon and in an act of retaliation, he chose to enter them into his own exhibition, in which he made his work The Balcony the main attraction.  This 1869 work featured a number of people on a balcony, one of who was Berthe Morisot, whom he had persuaded to pose for the work.  Berthe Morisot became friendly with the Manet family and the Morisot and Manet families socialised regularly.  Six years later Berthe Morisot married Eugène Manet, Édouard’s younger brother.

Edma Pontillon, née Morisot,  became pregnant with her first child at the end of 1869 and for a time that winter she returned to the family home to receive some comfort and support from her family whilst she waited for the birth of her first child.  For My Daily Art Display featured oil on canvas painting today, I am going back to that winter of 1869 and the return of the pregnant Edma Morisot to the family household.  It was during that stay that Berthe painted her mother and sister sitting together.  The painting, completed in 1870, is entitled Portrait of Cornélie Morisot and Edmé Pontillon (Mother and Sister of the Artist) and was one of her largest works which now hangs at the NGA Washington.   

It is a family portrait and in it she has portrayed her mother, Marie-Cornélie Morisot, reading whilst her sister, Edma, sits close by, within the family’s drawing room. We see the mother is concentrating upon reading her book and looks as if she is oblivious to her daughter’s presence.  Edma is portrayed with a dazed expression, in an almost dream like state, totally in a world of her own.  Again,  as I have asked on other occasions, look at the face of the daughter, what do you detect from her expression?  Why has her sister depicted her in this way?  To me her facial expression is a study of contemplation, almost meditation.   Maybe she is lost in thought with the arrival of her first child and considering what her future life will be like. Maybe her mother is reading out aloud and she is simply concentrating on her mother’s words.   Is Edma a young mother-to-be?  Look at her.  What age would you think she is?  Barely out of her teens or in her early twenties?  She in fact is not as young as her sister has depicted her as she was born in 1839 and at the time of the painting had had her thirtieth birthday.  The pure white colour of Edma’s dress is voluminous enough to hide the fact that she is pregnant,  as at the time Berthe, no doubt, had thoughts of having the work accepted for the Salon and she probably realised that depicting a pregnant woman would not please the jurists.  The virginal-white colour of Edma’s dress contrasts with the black one worn by her mother, who could be still in mourning for the death of her own mother, Marie-Caroline (Mayniel) Thomas earlier that year.

The painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1870 and it is thought that she also included it in the first exhibition held by the Impressionist painters in 1874.  The lead-up to Berthe putting forward the painting to the Salon jurists is an interesting tale, as the ever self deprecating Morisot was in two minds whether to even exhibit it.  In the end she approached Édouard Manet for his advice as to whether to submit the work.  He called at the Morisot household on the deadline day for Salon submissions to inspect the painting.  In one of Berthe’s letters she wrote about this inspection and told how Manet said nothing but instead extensively repainted the figure of the mother!  Berthe was mortified by what Manet had done and now wondered even more whether she should submit the painting to the Salon jurists.  She told her mother what had happened and of her dilemma with whether to exhibit the work as now it had been partly done by Manet, saying that she would “rather be at the bottom of the sea” than for this picture to appear at the Salon.  She went on to describe to her mother what had happened when Manet started to touch-up her work:

“…it isn’t possible to stop him; he passes from the petticoat to the bodice, from the bodice to the head, from the head to the background.”

She did put it forward for the Salon exhibition and it was well received.

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot (1865)

For the next few blogs I want to look at the life and works of Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot and some of the paintings other artists have done of her.  As I told you in my last offering I visited the Musée Marmottan Monet last week whilst in Paris and they were currently staging a retrospective of her work.  I have already featured one of her works, Le Bercau (The Cradle) in My Daily Art Display of August 10th 2011 and briefly told you about her life.  Today I am going to look again at her early life and feature a painting, not by the artist herself,  but a stunningly portrait of her, painted by her sister, Edma.

The world of French art between 1839 and 1841 was surely blessed as it was in that two-year period that the world witnessed the birth of four of the greatest French artists.  Paul Cezanne was born in January 1839, Claude Monet was born in November 1840 and Berthe Morisot and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were born in January and February 1841 respectively.  Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, a city in central France.  She had distant roots in French art as she was an indirect and distant descendent on her father’s side of none other than the French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard and the French 18th century female painter, Marguerite Gérard.  Berthe was one of four children.  She had two sisters, Marie-Elizabeth Yves born in 1838, known simply as Yves and Marie Edma Caroline born in 1839, known simply as Edma.  She also had a younger brother, Tiburce, born in1848.  Berthe was brought up in a successful and financially secure household.  Her mother was Marie-Cornélie Thomas, who came from a family of high level government officials, chief treasurers and paymasters of the province.   Her father was Edmé-Tiburce Morisot, who was an architectural graduate and who at the age of twenty-six founded an architectural journal.  However the venture collapsed when his co-founders absconded with all the money and left Tiburce to face the creditors.  He eventually had to hurriedly leave town, leaving all his furniture and possessions to his landlord in lieu of rent, and fled to Greece.  A year later in 1835 he returned to France penniless but his good looks and charm won him the hand of Marie-Cornélie in marriage.  She was sixteen years old and he was thirteen years older.   Marie’s father, who was the personnel director at the Ministry of Finance, managed to arrange employment for Tiburce Morisot as subprefect at the city of Yssingeaux, in the Haute-Loire region.  Tiburce worked hard and soon impressed his employers.  Promotions followed and at the time of his daughter Berthe’s birth, he was the prefect of the Department of Cher, the monarch’s chief administrator for the entire province.

In 1848 when Berthe was just seven years of age, because of the Third French Revolution which eventually led to the creation of the French Second Republic, Berthe’s father decided to move his family from Bourges to the Parisian suburb of Passy.   When Berthe was aged sixteen years of age, her mother, Marie-Cornélie Morisot decided to enrol her three daughters in private drawing classes.  At that time the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts would not admit female students and maintained that sexist doctrine until the last few years of the nineteenth century.  The sisters’ first tutor was Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne who taught the girls the fundamentals of drawing.  Yves love of art waned quickly and she gave up on her art tuition after a few months leaving just Edma and Berthe to carry on with their artistic studies.

Edma and Berthe then enrolled to study with Joseph Guichard, who had once been a student of Ingres and now lived in the same street in Passy as the Morisot family.  Guichard taught the girls all about classical art in the academic tradition.  He was there tutor from 1857 and 1860 and in 1858 Berthe registered as a copyist at the Louvre.  It was under the guidance of Guichard that Berthe Morisot first experimented in oil painting.  En plein-air,  painting outdoors in natural light,  became very important to the Impressionist painters and those from the Barbizon School and the two girls told Guichard that they wanted to learn more about that technique and so, in 1863, in consultation with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, a leader of the Barbizon School of painters it was arranged that the girls would study under Achille Oudinot, the French landscape painter.  In the spring of 1864 after seven years of intensive artistic training Berthe and Edma Morisot were admitted to the official Salon.  Berthe would exhibit at the Salon regularly and Edma would until her marriage in 1869 at which time she virtually gave up painting.

It is said that behind every great woman, there is another woman, often a close relative.  In nineteenth century England we saw it with the likes of the talented Bronte sisters who had each other for constructive critical support.  Although Morisot’s upbringing in a wealthy household bears no resemblance to the upbringing of the Bronte sisters,what she did have in her formative years, similar to the Bronte sisters, was the luxury of having a very loyal and supportive sister.  Standing unwaveringly behind Berthe was her sister Edma.  The sisters’ artistic collaboration came to an end in 1869, when Edma married her husband, Adolphe Pontillon, a naval officer.  In some ways Edma regretted the end of their artistic partnership and the close friendship which came with it.  They kept in contact by letter and in one Edma wrote:

“…I am often with you in thought, dear Berthe.  I’m in your studio and I like to slip away, if only for a quarter of an hour, to breathe that atmosphere that we shared for many years…”

Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets by Édouard Manet (1872)

And so I come to today’s featured painting.  There have been many portraits painted of Berthe Morisot , probably the best known being the one of her entitled, Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets which was painted by her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet in 1872 and which is housed in the Musée d’Orsay.  I have always thought that his has made her look rather dowdy, so today I have featured one of my two favourite portraits of the artist.  This one is simply entitled Berthe Morisot and was painted by her sister Edma in 1865 and is held in a private collection.  This beautiful portrait in some ways bears out the close relationship between the sisters and reveals the shared interest both had in painting.  In this work Edma has depicted her sister Berthe holding her palette and brush concentrating earnestly at the picture she is painting.  Look how well Edma has captured the intensity in Berthe’s expression.  Our eyes are immediately drawn to the face of Berthe, which is bathed in light and which contrasts well with the darkened background and also echoes the whites of the side of the canvas and the rag she holds.  This painting of Berthe Morisot depicts her indisputable beauty which often other portraits fail to achieve.  This is indeed a portrait of an extremely delightful young woman in her mid-twenties and one I fell in love with when I first saw it.

Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris

Musée Marmottan Monet

For my blog today I am not showcasing an artist or a painting but a small museum , the Musée Marmottan Monet, which I visited last week when I was in Paris and I hope that for any of you who are intending to visit the French capital and want to take in some of its artistic heritage you will make time to visit this museum.  I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.  The museum is situated at 2 rue Louis Boilly in the vibrant and colourful 16th arondissement and is easy to get to as there are two nearby Metro stations, La Muette and Ranelagh.

I have often advocated that when one goes to London one should not always head for the major art galleries such as the National Gallery or the two Tate galleries as they are so big that one has no hope of seeing everything in one session and trying to often means that you skimp on the time each painting deserves.  A better plan of action if your time is limited is to go and visit one of the smaller galleries.  In London one has the Wallace Collection, the Courtauld Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, to mention just a few.  So to practice what I preach, when I was in Paris last week I didn’t revisit the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, instead I visited, for the first time, the Musée Marmottan Monet and it was unquestionably a most worthwhile visit.

The building was originally constructed as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Valmy and a few years later was sold to Jules Marmottan which on his death along with all his belongings was bequeathed to his son Paul.  Paul Marmottan later built a small pavilion in the courtyard as the original building was too small to house all of his paintings, furniture and bronzes.  Paul Marmottan bequeathed his home and collection to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which opened up the house and collection as the Museum Marmottan in 1934.

If you like the work of the Impressionists and in particular the works of Claude Monet then look no further as this museum houses the largest collection of Monet’s work in the world and this is partly due to the fact that Monet’s youngest son Michel donated his father’s paintings from Giverny to the museum.  The building originally had two floors, the ground floor and an upper floor but to exhibit all the works they had to build a large underground room.  A number of bequests to the museum over the years have filled the building with beautiful and priceless art treasures.

The Duhem Collection was bequeathed to the museum by the daughter of the French painter, Henri Duhem.  These included works by Boudin, Caillebotte, Corot, Gaugin,  Monet and Renoir.  In 1980 an amazing group of illuminations spanning the 13th to 16th century was donated to the museum by Daniel Wildenstein.  The collection is exceptional for both the quantity and quality of the works.  There are over three hundred miniatures.  In 1996 the museum received an extraordinary donation from Annie Rouart.  Her husband was Denis Rouart, the grandson of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet.  Among the paintings given to the museum by Annie Rouart were masterpieces by Degas, Manet, Monet and Renoir and of course works by the famous female Impressionist Berthe Morisot.

Berthe Morisot Exhibition

For those of you who love the work of Berthe Morisot, and I include myself in that particular fan club, there is currently running a brilliant exhibition of her work.  It is housed in the basement.   It opened on March 8th and runs until July 1st 2012.  It presents the first major retrospective of the work of Berthe Morisot to be held in Paris for almost half a century.  One hundred and fifty paintings, pastels, watercolours and drawings in red chalk and charcoal, from museums and private collections all over the world, retrace the career of the Impressionist movement’s best-known woman painter. Works which have been selected for the exhibition cover the whole of Berthe Morisot’s artistic career, from her earliest works around 1860, to her untimely death at the age of 54, in 1895.  In my next few blogs I will feature a few  of the many paintings I saw when I walked around the museum.

Le Bercau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot

Le Bercau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot (1872)

Today I am returning to the Impressionists.  For most people, if they were asked to reel off the names of Impressionist artists, the likes of Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Renior and Pissarro would easily trip off the tongue.   With a little more contemplation the names of Sisley and Caillebotte may come to mind.  Of course looking at the list they have, besides Impressionists, one thing in common – they are all men.  However the Impressionist painters were not all men.  They had three talented female artists amongst their ranks and this triumvirate was called le trios grandes dames by the French art critic and historian, Gustave Geffroy, in his book Histoire de l’Impresssionnisme, La Vie artistique.

There was Marie Bracqemond who exhibited at three of the eight great annual Impressionist exhibitions in Paris.  There was the American-born Mary Cassatt who spent most of her adult life in Paris and exhibited at four of the Impressionist exhibitions, which were held in Paris between 1874 and 1886.  Then finally there was Berthe Morisot, who is my featured artist of the day, and who exhibited her work at all except one of the eight Exhibitions and that was because she was giving birth to her daughter.  She was not just a token female of the art group; she was one of the great organisers and a leading light of the Impressionist group.   Morisot and Cassatt are also thought of as the most important female painters of the nineteenth century.  The art world up to this time was dominated by male artists and even now there is a patronising attitude to 19th century female artists that they were “followers” of their contemporary male painters instead of giving them the credit they deserve.  Even today when Impressionist works by Morisot and Cassatt are not looked upon and judged on their own merit but are instead compared to the works of their mail contemporaries, such as Degas and Manet.   Female artists in those days were also hamstrung by convention in which they were not supposed to draw or paint nudes.  The role of women in those days was simple – look after their men folk and have their babies and if the woman wanted to draw or paint then this was looked on as a mere hobby and not a career option.  However along came Berthe Morisot, a very independent person and a free spirit, whose desire to become an artist was supported by her family.  She also had another thing going for her – she was an extremely beautiful woman.

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was born in 1841 in Bourges in central France.  Her family were very successful and wealthy.   Her father Edme Tiburce Morisot had studied art at the Ecole de Beaux- Arts, but eventually gave up the idea of becoming a full-time painter and instead became a prominent government official.   He married his sixteen year-old bride Marie Cornelie Thomas in 1835 and they had four children.  Berthe was the youngest of three sisters, the other two being Marie Edma Caroline and Marie Elizabeth Yves and she had a younger brother Tiburce.

She and her sisters Edma and Yves set their hearts on being painters and their family were very supportive. It was an artistic family with Berthe’s grandfather, Jean-Honoré Fragonard being one of the greatest Rococo painters of his time. Their parents arranged art lessons for them but soon Yves lost interest in art and dropped out of the lessons.  In 1857 Berthe and her sister Edma studied drawing under Geoffery-Alphonse Chocrane.  A year later they studied under the tutelage of Joseph-Benoît Guichard and he would take them to the Louvre where they copied the paintings of the Masters and that year they were registered with the museum as copyists.   It was around about 1861 that the two sisters, whilst working in the Louvre, met another young painter, Edouard Manet and this was to prove to be the start of a very long friendship.   From 1862 to 1868 Morisot studied art under the guidance of the French landscape and figure painter Camille Corot who taught her the finer arts of landscape painting and the en plein air method of painting.  It was during this time that she became friends with an Impressionist painter Henri Fantin-Latour, whose speciality was still life paintings incorporating flowers.

The two Manet brothers, Edouard and Eugène and the two Morisot sisters, Berthe and Edma became very close friends and it was through Berthe Morisot that Edouard Manet was introduced to the other Impressionist painters.  It is also believed that it was through Morisot that Manet embarked on the en plein air method of painting.  Edouard Manet used Morisot as a model on a number of occasions and the portrait of Berthe Morisot we see the most is one done by Manet, entitled Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets.  Berthe Morisot was not just a talented artist, she was also extremely beautiful.  She and Manet were leading lights of the Impressionist Movement and it was she and Camille Pissarro who were the most consistent exhibitors at the eight Impressionist Exhibitions.  In 1874 and Manet became her brother-in-law when Berthe married Eugène Manet.   Four years later she gave birth to a daughter, Julie.

Édouard Manet is seen as the most important single influence on the development of her artistic style.  Over time the Master/Pupil status of Manet and Morisot changed to the point when they were looked upon as equals and Morisot developed her own style.   Morisot was by this time becoming a successful artist and had her first works; two landscape paintings, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1864 at the age of twenty-three.  She continued to exhibit her works there for the next ten years.

Morisot’s paintings focused on everyday life and often reflected the cultural restrictions experienced by females in the nineteenth century.  Her works of art, like today’s painting, often concentrated on simple domestic scenes and in her works she would utilise family friends or relatives as models.  Her works were set in many different locations such as in the garden, besides the river but there was a constant theme, that of the joys of family life.  She battled against the two prejudices which were levelled against her art – her gender and her wealth.  Being a female, social convention would not allow her to paint nudes or men and thus she had to concentrate on landscapes and paintings of women and children.   Coming from a wealthy family and having financial stability left her open to the charge that she was merely a dilettante whose art was just a hobby.

Eugène Manet, her husband, died in 1892 and three years later Berthe Morisot died of pneumonia in 1854. at the age of 54 and was buried in the Cimetière de Passy, Paris.

The painting today, Le Bercau (The Cradle) was painted by Berthe Morisot in 1872.  In the picture we see a mother looking at a baby who lies asleep in a crib.  Morisot’s sister Edma was the model for the woman and the baby asleep in the crib was Edma’s daughter Blanche.  This painting was the first of her many works which featured motherhood and the everyday life of contemporary women, which was her most favourite subject for her works of art.

There are some interesting things about how mother and child are depicted by Morisot.  Look how the left hand of the mother mirrors the left hand of the baby in the way that it touches her face.  There is a diagonal line in the painting running from the baby’s arm through to the mother’s arm almost like an attachment between mother and child.  The diagonal continues with the way the artist has added a fold in the wispy curtain in the background.    There is a great sense of intimacy between mother and child as she looks down lovingly at the infant having carefully drawn back the net curtain to get a better view of her beautiful child.  We, on the other hand,  are just allowed to see the baby through the mesh of the curtain.  The painting reflects the love between mother and child.  She is positioned by the crib to be able to comfort the baby if she should wake.  This is an extremely moving painting.  Its depiction of the look of endearment on the mother’s face and the peaceful look on the baby’s sleeping face is superb.  It is very touching but I believe the painting as a whole avoids over-romanticizing the subject or making it mawkish.

The painting was exhibited at the first Impressionist Exhibition at Félix Nadar’s photographic studio at Boulevard des Capucines in 1874 and she was the first woman to exhibit with the group.  This has always been looked upon as one of Morisot’s finest paintings.  The painting remained in the Morisot family until 1930 when it was sold to the Louvre where it remained until it was transferred to the Musée d’Orsay, where it hangs today.

I will finish with the words of her brother-in-law, the artist Manet, who said of Morisot:

“…This woman’s work is exceptional. Too bad she’s not a man….”

One final bit of trivia – on her death certificate under the heading “Profession” the entry simply stated “No Profession”.  Why ?  Simply because she was a woman !