The painting featured here was a portrait of Berthe Morisot by Edouard Manet, titled Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets. The lives of these two artists were closely intertwined, both professionally and also personally. Berthe married Eugène Manet, the younger brother of Edouard and a painter himself, though his career would never reach the heights of his old brother. Eugène was to feature in several different paintings by Morisot, in line with her passion for painting scenes with a personal touch. This was one of her unique features within the Impressionist movement, reflecting her different viewpoint as a female painter. Her technical touches of brush were also equally sensitive and considered, particularly in the early stages of her development.
An additional, and highly significant, role in the legacy of Berthe Morisot was her contribution to the reputation of female artists and helping them to start to gain a foothold in the male-dominated art world. Only the most stubborn critic could now argue that women were incapable of producing fine art at the highest of levels. Mary Cassatt would make a similar impact, though as an American would have to rise above even greater obstacles.
The femininity of this artist crept directly into her artistic style, as well as the content that she chose to capture. Whilst touching on the standard themes of the Impressionist movement, she would also capture domestic scenes too. You find a plethora of portraits, often of family and friends, within our paintings section. As her level of attention increased she would also start to produce large numbers of study drawings too, in order to perfect her figurative work.
The main artists of the majority of art movements in and around the 19th century would follow similar paths in terms of training and education as young students. Unfortunately, in the case of Berthe Morisot, most of her work during this period was destroyed which has made it harder to fill in the knowledge gaps of her career during this time. It was she herself who made the conscious choice of getting rid of most of her work during this time, purely because she was unhappy with the majority of it. Perhaps during this period of quick development and experimentation, she would always look back at past work and judge it unfairly.
It was as a draughtswoman that Morisot first impressed, mainly due to her earliest classes focusing purely on this medium. Whilst painting would later take over, her study drawings would always be at the basis of her work and preparation. After making use of several different teachers, including Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne and Joseph Guichard, she would start to switch her interest to the more complex and challenging mediums of oils and watercolours. She would also move on from charcoal drawings towards pastels, something which proved popular with many other impressionists at a later date.
For an extended period Morisot produced large numbers of watercolour paintings, prefering it over any other medium at that time. This was prior to her work within the Impressionist movement. At this stage she was still a relatively cautious artist, looking to hone her skills and build confidence. Her somewhat safe palette is an example of this. The characteristics of watercolour painting was suited to her subtle touches of the brush and served an important role in her development towards the finished artist.
Main Impressionist Period
Morisot will always be remembered for her involvement in the very first Impressionist exhibition. It was held in the studio of a photographer with whom they were close, Nadar, in 1874. Her work went alongside the likes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley. The selection entered for display included drawings and pastel pieces alongside their more well known oil paintings.
Morisot would then start to use oils more and more, though still returning to watercolours and pastels on regular occasions. She would sometimes produce oil paintings in her studio from outdoor studies completed earlier in an alternative medium. She was very comfortable switching from one to another, whilst other artists would normally specialise in one medium for an extended period. The French climate and environment was ideally suited to working outdoors, too, and she found this an excellent way of regularly studying elements that were common to her work in order to eventually be able to capture them effortlessly. Working outdoors was to become a signature element of the Impressionist movement.
Morisot would later return to drawing, considered a fundamental skill in many different art movements, dating back to the Renaissance and before that. As someone who studied figurative form in great detail and over many years, drawing in pencil or charcoal helped the artist to refine her ability in this area and make some of her processes almost instinctive. Another technique she began to experiment with was using tracing paper in order to transfer her carefully studied drawings across to the canvas accurately, before adding oils over the top.