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Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Bourges, France
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
An artist among the first rank of the Impressionists, Berthe Morisot was also a co-organizer of several of the Impressionist exhibitions and an active member of the Parisian artistic and intellectual elite in the last third of the 19th Century, counting among her friends the leading artists, critics and poets of the day. She left a large and distinguished oeuvre of paintings, pastels, watercolors and prints. Her father was a senior civil servant and was able to provide a very comfortable life for Morisot and her family. She showed a talent for drawing at an early age, and studied under Joseph Benoit Guichard (1806-1880). In addition to providing a sound grounding in drawing, Guichard obtained permission for her to copy old master works in the Louvre in 1858, where she met Fèlix Bracquemond (1833-1914) and Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). Guichard introduced Morisot to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), who accepted her as a student in 1860, teaching her his approach to light and form. His instruction continued until 1862, when he nominated his disciple Achille François Oudinot (1820-1891) to continue the instruction. Oudinot introduced the sisters to Charles-Pierre Daubigny (1817-1878) and Honoré Daumier (1808-1879). In the winter of 1864 Morisot studied with the sculptor Aimé Millet (1819-1891). Two of Morisot’s landscape paintings executed during the previous summer were accepted for exhibition at the official Salon of 1864. She exhibited at the Salon every year (but one) thereafter through 1873. Her View of Paris from the Trocadero (Santa Barbara Museum of Art), exhibited in the Salon of 1867, drew the attention of Édouard Manet (1832-1883), among others. By the end of the decade Manet and Morisot had become close friends and working colleagues as well, each influencing the other. Manet began painting more out-of-doors, in response to Morisot’s suggestions, and Morisot’s technique became more adventuresome and free and her subject matter became focused more on contemporary life, as she drew on Manet’s example. In 1868 she posed for Manet’s The Balcony (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) with the violinist Fanny Claus (1846-1877) and the painter Jean Baptiste Antonin Guillemet (1843-1918), a painting that provoked great controversy when exhibited in the 1869 Salon. It was the first of eleven portraits Manet painted of her. Through Manet and his family Morisot met Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Emile Zola (1840-1902) and other members of Manet’s circle, as well as Manet’s brother Eugène (1833-1892), whom she would later marry. Perhaps inspired by Degas, she began working regularly with water colors in 1870. Through Manet and his friends, Morisot became close to the group of artists later known as the Impressionists, both artistically and personally. Despite Manet’s objections, she assisted in the organization of what became known as the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, showing her works along with those by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Degas, Claude Monet (1840-1926), Camille Pissarro (1831-1903) and Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), among others. After participating in the Impressionist exhibition, she no longer exhibited at the Salon. In December 1874 she married Eugène Manet, receiving from Degas his portrait of Eugène as a wedding gift. Marriage and the birth of their only child Julie (1878-1966), did little to slow Morisot’s artistic output. Her subjects included scenes from her travels, interior scenes with friends and family, and studies of her daughter and niece. She exhibited in six of the other seven Impressionist Exhibitions, missing only the one in 1878 after Julie’s birth, and with Eugène she assisted in the organization of the exhibitions, particularly the last in 1886. She participated in Paul Durand-Ruel’s (1831-1922) exhibition of Impressionist works in New York City in 1886 and Georges Petit’s (1835?-1900) “Exposition Internationale” in Paris in 1886 and 1887, along with several of the Impressionists. She and Eugène entertained their artistic friends regularly at their Paris home, including Degas, Monet, Renoir, Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), and continued their summer trips to the Atlantic coast and other locations in France. She pursued lithographs and etchings during 1888-1890, producing a set of eight drypoint etchings after a winter trip to the French Riveria in 1888-89. Despite occasional bouts of ill-health and the death of her husband Eugène in 1892, she continued to work, showing 43 works at her first solo exhibition in 1892, and continuing to travel and entertain. Mallarmé was a frequent companion. In 1895 influenza she caught from Julie turned into pneumonia and Morisot died on March 2. (TNB 5/2010) Selected bibliography: Patin, Sylvia, et al. Berthe Morisot, 1841-1895. Exhibition Catalog, Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002. Higgonet, Anne. Berthe Morisot. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Shennan, Margaret. Berthe Morisot, the first lady of Impressionism. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1996.