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Édouard Manet

Baudelaire and the Impressionist Revolution

Claude Monet

 

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Photograph of Morisot taken circa 1870 by the famous photographer Félix Nadar.  In 1853, Nadar opened a Paris studio that became a meeting place for the many artists depicted in his superb portraits.  The First Impressionist Exhibition (1874) was held in the Nadar studio. The above painting, entitled Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, is probably the most famous portrait ever done of her.  The artist, her good friend (and lover?) Edouard Manet, painted the picture in 1872.  Manet made a total of eleven oil portraits of Morisot.  In my opinion, this is the best of the lot! After Edouard Manet, Morisot probably had a closer friendship with Pierre-Auguste Renoir than any other artist.  Renoir made several drawings and oil paintings of Morisot and her daughter Julie.  The above drawing was done in 1892, just three years before Morisot's death.

Berthe Morisot was born in 1841, into a wealthy bourgeois family who encouraged her and her sister Edma Morisot in their pursuit of art. Once Berthe settled on a career as a painter, her family did nothing to impede her.

In 1861, she met the important landscape painter, Camille Corot.  He introduced her to other artists and teachers and she began to paint, on site, in the open air (plein air).  She produced many small paintings, such as the landscape entitled View of Paris from the Trocadero (see below) using this technique, either as finished works or as studies for larger works completed in the studio.

In 1864, Morisot's submitted two landscape paintings to the Paris Salon; both were accepted.  She continued to show regularly in the Salon until 1874, when she chose to submit her works to the First Impressionist Exhibition.  She continued to exhibit with the Impressionists.  Indeed, Morisot, along with Camille Pissarro, were the only two artists who exhibited in all eight of the Impressionist Exhibitions (1874-1886).

She became acquainted with Édouard Manet in 1868.  In 1874, she married Eugene Manet, Édouard's younger brother.

As a female artist, like Mary Cassatt, Morisot was limited in her choice of subject matter, i.e., mostly pictures of women, children, and domestic scenes. However, as a dedicated Impressionist, Morisot painted what she saw in her immediate, everyday life. As a woman of the "haute bourgeoisie" she saw domestic interiors, holiday spots, other women, and children of the same social class. Without exception, her subject matter and artistic style was similar to that of her male Impressionist colleagues.

Berthe Morisot died in Paris on March 2, 1895 and was interred in the Cimetière de Passy, the same cemetery where Édouard Manet is buried.

 

View of Paris from the Trocadero (1871-1872)

 


Being a female member of the French Haute Bourgeoisie, Berthe Morisot was greatly restricted as to the places where she could go and therefore what she might paint. Unlike her male colleagues, she was unable to frequent the fashionable cafes and night clubs of  Paris.  It was impossible for her to join the intellectual discussions hosted by Edouard Manet at the Cafe Guerbois. Rarely, was she able to go into Paris and then only in a suitable carriage with a proper chaperone. The subject matter for her paintings was essentially restricted to life in the upper middle-class Paris suburb of Passy where she lived with her parents.  She made the best of her situation and executed many painting of family members engaging in typical Haute Bourgeoisie activities in and near Passy. 

Almost all of Morisot's paintings were small in size, View of Paris from the Trocadero measures only about 18 by 32 inches and it is one of the few landscapes that she ever painted. Most of Morisot's paintings were portraits of family and friends, particularly her sisters Yves Gobillard and Edma Pontillon and their children. In 1874, Berthe married Eugene Manet (brother of Edouard Manet) and their only child, Julie, was born in 1879.  Julie soon became a favorite subject for Morisot's paints and no little girl has ever had a better record of her early life documented in paintings.

Berthe Morisot's painting, View of Paris from the Trocadero (Vue de Paris depuis le Trocadéro), was completed in 1872, a few months after the conclusion of the Franco Prussian War and the suppression of the Paris Commune. She probably felt that it would be desirable to paint a new view of the city now that it was finally at peace with itself.  She had always been keenly interested in the relationship between the Paris suburbanites and the dwellers in the city center. 

Her painting provides a panoramic view of the Seine River valley, a bridge called the Pont d'Léna, and the Paris skyline - all viewed from the crest of the hill of Chaillot, popularly known as the Trocadero. 

The very top of hill of Chaillot was known as the Place de Trocadero, named in remembrance of an 1823 French victory in Spain at the Battle of Trocadero. In 1872, there were very few structures  on the hill; it was basically a pleasant and safe grassy area near the home of Berthe Morisot's parents in the upper-middle class suburb of Passy. The hill of Chaillot is now the location of the Palais de Chaillot which was built in 1937.  Directly across from this palace, on the opposite bank of the Seine, stands the Eiffel Tower (built 1889).  At the current time (2006), Passy is still one of the wealthiest parts of Paris and features some of the highest housing prices in all of France.   Passy is now a part of Paris - the16th Arrondissement. 

The Pont d'Léna was built by Napoleon I to celebrate his victory in 1806 over the Prussians. In 1937, the bridge was widened to provide better access to the newly constructed Palais de Chaillot.

Prominent features of the Paris skyline, as depicted by Morisot in the painting, include: 

1)  The Arc de Triomphe is vaguely outlined on the central part of the skyline. The arch was first commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon Bonaparte to commemorate his victory at Austerlitz; however, it was not completed until 1836 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe.

2)  To the right of the Arc de Triomphe, is the golden Dôme des Invalides, part of the Hôtel des Invalides complex, which was originally built as a hospital for disabled veterans by Louis XIV.  Under the huge dome are the tombs of many prominent Frenchmen such as Vauban, Turenne and Foch. The most important occupant is Napoleon I, whose remains were interred there in a massive crypt in 1861.

3)  The dome of the Pantheon, appearing just to the right of the Dôme des Invalides.  The Pantheon was originally a church, built by the order of Louis XV, but not completed until the eve of the French Revolution in 1789.  During the Revolution, the building was changed from a church to a mausoleum dedicated to the interment of great Frenchmen.  In 1872, the notables interred there included Voltaire (1694-1778), Rousseau (1712-1778) and Marat (1743-1793).

4)  The skyline includes the spires of several churches, including the most famous Gothic Cathedral in all of France, the Cathedral de Notre Dame.

 

Shown above is a portion of a well-known Paris map entitled Nouveau Plan de Paris Monumental, dated 1900. The map shows much of the area depicted in Morisot's painting, as it appeared in the year 1900. Already several changes had occurred.  For example, the top of the Tocadero hill was then the site of the Palais du Trocadéro, (old palace) which was built here at the time of the 1878 World's Fair to provide meeting places for international organizations during the fair.  On the east side of the Seine, opposite the Pont d'Lena, is the Champ de Mars, only a military parade ground in 1872, but, since 1889, was the site of the Eiffel Tower.  Two other sites shown on the map, that appear in Morisot's skyline of Paris, are the Arc de Triomphe (upper right) and the Dôme des Invalides (extreme right).

 

The figures in the foreground, all female, are probably Morisot's two sisters Yves and Edma; the little girl is probably Yves's daughter Bichette. 

The usual interpretation of this painting is that it is making a sociological statement regarding the very constrained status of women in 19th Century France.

Morisot's work was painted in a typically Impressionist style. Some key points concerning the way in which this painting was created are as follows:

bulletThe subject matter is unconventional in that it represents a view of Paris as it actually appeared at a specific time and place in 1872.  The scene has not been idealized in any way to communicate some higher philosophical or moral purpose.

 

bulletThe painting was primarily accomplished on-site in the open air (en plein air).

 

bulletPaints of different colors were not mixed before application.  Her chosen colors, particularly the pale lavender and light blue used for the sky and horizon are very esthetically pleasing.

 

bulletThe colors in the painting are almost all light tones of a most delicate pallor.

 

bulletThe scene definitely depicts a protean moment.  The people in the foreground, the carts and coaches on the roads, as well as the boats in the Seine are all in motion and the scene will quickly change.

 

bulletOverall, the work communicates a strong feeling of both light and motion.

 

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