Category Archives: Giverny

The Best Impressionist Painter is not Monet…and other heresies

Who, me?  Dissing Monet??  No, not at all.  It’s just that Berthe Morisot doesn’t get the attention she deserves.  She is my favourite Impressionist painter, and, (dare I say?) the best of the lot.

Berthe Morisot, Self Portrait, 1985

Berthe Morisot, Self Portrait, 1985

The Frick Five’s final question (which is really two questions)  Which artist do you find most overrated?  Which artist do you find most underrated? reminded me of Berthe Morisot.  If you are thinking Berthe who? you’re not alone.  Many people are not aware of her, and her significance in the history of art.

I was fortunate to come across several of her artworks in the Musée Marmottan in Paris.  (Three  fun facts:  I briefly wrote about Mme Morisot  in 2014, the Marmottan is  one of my favourite art museums in Paris, and, coincidentally, it has a huge Monet wing – definitely a topic for another post.)

More recently, she has received some of the attention she deserves. In 2019, The Dallas Museum of Art hosted the international exhibition  Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist, which also toured to the Barnes Foundation, the Musée D’orsay and the Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec.  Everyone from Artnet News to The New Yorker to The Washington Post has been writing about her since 2018.

In her biography of Berthe Morisot, Anne Higonnet, outlines some of the challenges Berthe Morisot faced.  From our viewpoint in the 21st century, it’s startling to realize Madame Morisot (Berthe’s mother) had to chaperone Berthe’s painting visits to the Lourve.

Nineteenth-century bourgeois convention recognized only one suitable path for women – marriage and motherhood.  Anything else was failure.  Single women were ‘excess’ human beings who had not fulfilled their womanly destinies.  A career was supposed to ‘unsex’ a woman, leech away her femininity, and render her abnormal.  In Morisot’s field, such threats acquired a daunting edge.  For genius was deemed a masculine attribute.  No one could imagine a great woman painter.  None had yet existed, and this seemed sufficient proof that none ever would.  (p.51)

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay image

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay image

The challenges and obstacles she faced began well before she even reached the easel and picked up a paintbrush; they were everywhere around her, in the idea that ‘genius’ was a function of masculinity, in the dearth of role models for her to follow, in the … logistics she encountered on a day-to-day basis, in the minds of others and in her own mind. (p.148)

Berthe Morisot, Woman at Her Toilette, 1875–1880, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago image

Berthe Morisot, Woman at Her Toilette, 1875–1880, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago image

How Berthe Morisot Broke Barriers to Become the First Female Impressionist  is a succinct article, with good images, from My Modern Met.  All ‘barrier breaking’ aside,  Berthe Morisot is, in my books, a DFP (damned fine painter.)  Note the lush brushwork, and the gorgeous palette – all hallmarks of the Impressionist painters.

Take another look at the compositions, too.  Subtle, but powerful:  in Woman at Her Toilette the line of the mirror anchors the left side of the painting, whilst the highlights off her earring, and then the glass container, draw us in to appreciate the beauty of her shoulder and neck. The right side of the painting is fascinatingly vague, and gives our eye a space to rest, in contrast to the rich details enveloping the woman.

Notice how she uses geometric shapes to give strength and contrast to the domestic scenes she portrays in both The Cradle and Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight. Triangles abound in the former painting;  rectangles compose the latter, below.

Berthe Morisot, In England (Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight), 1875, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan, Photo by Erich Lessing Art Resource, NY

Berthe Morisot, In England (Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight), 1875, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan, Photo by Erich Lessing Art Resource, NY

I suspect one of Edouard Manet’s portraits of Berthe Morisot is more well-known than any of her paintings.  Edouard Manet was her brother-in-law;  she was married to Eugène Manet.  Although Anne Higonnet dismisses art historical gossip (p.92) she admits that

….he made more portraits of her than anyone else.  (“He has made a portrait of his wife, I think it was about time,”  wrote Cornell Thomas Morisot in March 1869.)  (p.55)

It’s a flattering portrait, there’s no arguing that.  Whether of not they were romantically involved is a topic for speculation.  I am looking forward to reading the new novel, Madder Women,  by Dede Crane which promises tumultuous love affair.  Who can resist?

Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, Edouard Manet, 1872

Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, Edouard Manet, 1872

One must give credit where credit is due.  Besides all of his prodigious output, Claude Monet left an extensive collection of 19th century Japanese prints in his home in Giverny, as well as a  gorgeous garden for us to experience.  He may not be the best of the Impressionist painters, but he was generous, and remains hugely popular and beloved.  Perhaps as Berthe Morisot receives more attention, her genius will be appreciated and her artwork will be widely enjoyed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ai Weiwei….again

Here’s the blog post I had started last week, when I was waylaid by Anila Agha’s astonishing installation and wrote about it instead …..

I recently watched the documentary, Never Sorry , about the Chinese artist and social activist, Ai Weiwei.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  It’s available at this link.  You can watch a trailer here.

The film was directed, and produced by Alison Klayman, and received many awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary.

Never Sorry reinforced my contention that Ai Weiwei is one of the most important contemporary artists in the world.  The story behind the installation Remembering, is very emotional.  (Yes, I cried.  Again.)

photo from the Daily Mail, UK

Does the best art move us to tears….or do I just need more sleep?!

For me, the layers of meaning imbedded in these works of art by Weiwei, and Agha, are what make them so interesting.  Not only are they visually pleasing, and sometimes downright beautiful, but these artists also convey important thoughts, ask great questions, and make connections to other ideas, times and places.  There’s so much there.

Renoir is quoted as saying, “For me a painting should be joyous and pretty–yes, pretty!  There are enough annoying things in life without our creating new ones.”

Now I’m not about to argue with Renoir, or his popularity.  Apparently, he was on to something.  I just think artists like Weiwei and Agha take the work even further by creating art that is both sensually and intellectually engaging.

That being said, I did cry at Monet’s garden in Giverny.