Thursday, January 31, 2013

Subject and Verb

Berthe Morisot "Self-Portrait"  1885  Musée Marmottan Monet
Berthe Morisot  (1841-1895) was one of the founders of the Impressionist movement. She showed artistic promise from childhood on and at age twenty-three a painting of hers was chosen for the highly selective Salon de Paris. She exhibited in six subsequent Salons until 1874 when she threw in her lot with like-minded art colleagues who (unlike herself) had been rejected by the official salon jury, and the group initiated the first impressionist exhibition. The rest is, of course, history. Morisot is often referred to as one of "les trois grandes dames de l'Impressionnisme" along with Marie Braquemond and Mary Cassatt. Morisot's skill was prodigious and seemed to be forever evolving in both subtlety and directness. On the occasion of the eighth and last Impressionist Exhbition in 1886 critic Jean Ajalbert said this about Morisot's technique, ``She eliminates cumbersome epithets and heavy adverbs in her terse sentence. Everything is subject and verb."

Morisot was one of three painting sisters, all raised in a comfortable and cultured french family who were unusually supportive of the young women's artistic ambitions. I have written about Berthe's close relationship with her sister Edma, but the oldest sister Yves, also displayed unusual talent for art, although she very early abandoned it as a serious pursuit. Yves' daughter Paule Gobillard (1867-1946) inherited both talent and ambition. She was often to be found working with Morisot in her home and studio. Indeed, when Yves Gobillard died in 1893 Paule and her younger sister Jeanne moved in for a time with their aunt Berthe and their cousin Julie Manet. Morisot's husband Eugène Manet had died the previous year and the doubly bereaved women drew together for mutual support and comfort.

Berthe Morisot "Paule Gobillard Drawing"  1886 Private Collection
Interestingly, both these portraits of Gobillard are dated 1886. In the first Gobillard's hair is still down her back in a childlike braid, whereas by the next piece she was wearing it up, a sign of maturity. Hair up or down could be of social significance or simply illustrate a random moment, perhaps a morning when the girl had not had time to dress her hair properly in her eagerness to get to the drawing board! 

Berthe Morisot "Paule Gobillard Painting"  1886  Musée Marmottan Monet

Paule Gobillard never married, but remained close to her sister Jeanne and her cousin Julie Manet, and was involved in the family life of her relatives. She continued to paint throughout her life and exhibited regularly at the Salon, as well as at private galleries in France and abroad.


Marianne said...

I love her work and have always loved this self-portrait in particular!

Nancy Bea Miller said...

She is pretty much the 800 pound gorilla! The more you read about her life the more in awe you become. Or, at least, I become! ;->

Alexandra Tyng said...

Thank you for posting this about one of my favorite impressionist painters, Berthe Morisot. I did not know that her family included several other female artists (or potential artists), and the interconnections, both genetic and artistic, make a fascinating story.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Yes, and her family claims kinship with Fragonard, that lively painter of ancien regime fame!

Alexandra Tyng said...

Oh, interesting! One more layer of the story.

heddy said...

I discovered that she also has a place in the history of feminism in art. When there was much pressure being placed on museums by the Guerilla Girls etc. for not including women artists, and the National Museum of Women in the Ats was established in Washington DC, the National Gallery presented a solo exhibit of a woman artist for the first time in its history, Berthe Morisot. I think it was 1982.