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Art History

Happy Birthday Berthe Morisot

Happy (belated) Birthday to Berthe Morisot, born January 14th 1841!  I was excited to learn more about this artist – she is one that I had run across several times while reading and researching other Impressionists, but it was nice to finally focus completely on her and her art.

Self Portrait by Berthe Morisot. Impressionistic painting of older woman in yellow dress.
Self Portrait, Berthe Morisot, 1885
Women and Child on a Balcony by Berthe Morisot. Painting of a woman in black dress and a little girl in white looking out from a balcony away from the viewer
Women and Child on a Balcony, Berthe Morisot, 1872

Early Life

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was born in Bourges, Cher, France to an affluent bourgeois family.  Her father was a government official and her mother was the great niece of Rococo painter Jean-Honore Fragonard.  She had two older sisters and a younger brother.  At age 11 she moved to Paris, France with her family.

Berthe and her sisters Yves and Edma initially started taking art lessons in order to make a drawing for their father’s birthday.  It was common for daughters of the bourgeois to receive art education.  They received private lessons by Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocame and Joseph Guichard, who ran a school for girls in Rue des Moulins.  In 1857 Guichard introduced Berthe and Edma to the Louvre Gallery.  Unmarried women at that time weren’t allowed to leave home unchaperoned or receive formal training, but with the guidance of Guichard, Berthe and Edma were able to learn through copying the paintings at the museum.  

Through their time at the museum, they became friends with fellow artists Edouard Manet and Claude Monet.  Berthe and Edma studied together until 1859 when Edma got married and moved away with her husband.  In 1874, Berthe married Eugene Manet (Edouard’s brother) and in 1878 had her daughter Julie who she portrayed often in her paintings.

The Sisters by Berthe Morisot. Painting of two hair-haired women in white dresses sitting on a floral couch.
The Sisters, Berthe Morisot, 1869
Julie and Eugene Manet by Berthe Morisot. Impressionistic painting of a man in a hat sitting with a girl in a white dress.
Julie and Eugene Manet, Berthe Morisot, 1883

Berthe Morisot the Artist

Berthe Morisot had several teachers who guided her early art journey.  In 1861 she took up plein air painting under the instruction of Barbizon landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.  The Barbizon School of art was a group of artists from Barbizon, France who painted nature landscapes in a realistic way.  Morisot also was studying under Barbizon painter Achille Oudinot by 1863.  In the winter of 1863-64, she studied sculpture with Aimé Millet.  Because Morisot destroyed many of her artworks prior to 1869, it’s difficult to fully see the influences of her different teachers and the stages that her early work went through.

Bethe Morisot exhibited for the first time in 1864 at age 23 with two of her landscape paintings at Salon de Paris.  The Salon was the highly esteemed annual exhibition sponsored by the government and judged by Academicians of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  (This was the exhibition space that her fellow Impressionist artists had been rejected from prior to creating their own show.)  Her work was selected for six additional consecutive exhibitions. 

Child in the Rose Garden by Berthe Morisot. Impressionistic painting of a small girl in a garden
Child in the Rose Garden, Berthe Morisot, 1881

In 1874 she was the only woman invited to show in the first exhibition of the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers – later known as the Impressionists.  The exhibition included Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, and was held at Nadar’s studio.  She participated in seven of the eight exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886.

The Cradle by Berthe Morisot. Painting of woman sitting next to a cradle with a baby sleeping
The Cradle, Berthe Morisot, 1872
Young Woman Powdering Her Face by Berthe Morisot. Painting of red-haired woman in white dress sitting at a mirror doing her makeup
Young Woman Powdering Her Face, Berthe Morisot, 1877

Style & Themes

Like her fellow Impressionists, Berthe Morisot painted with bold, loose brushstrokes that prioritized the capturing of light over realistic detailed representation.  She often worked plein air and expressed moments in time.  “My ambition is limited to the desire to capture something transient, and yet, this ambition is excessive,” said Berthe Morisot.  Her paintings were light and elegant, which often led male critics to label them as being full of “feminine charm.” 

Most of Berthe Morisot’s paintings centered around domestic life and portraits.  She used friends and family as models, especially her daughter Julie and sister Edma.  It was seen as scandalous for women to paint from male models or nudes, so she was limited to subject matters that depicted women’s life such as scenes of involving women, children, and flowers.  Consequently, this gave her and other women Impressionist artists the ability to bring an intimacy of life to the public that was not previously portrayed in art.


The Artists Daughter Julie with Her Nanny by Berthe Morisot. Impressionistic painting of a woman in blue and child looking downward
The Artists Daughter Julie with Her Nanny, Berthe Morisot, 1884
After Lunch by Berthe Morisot. Impressionistic painting of a woman in grey seated at a table looking at the viewer with a fan in her hand
After Lunch, Berthe Morisot, 1881

Death & Legacy

Berthe Morisot passed away at the age of 53 on March 2, 1895 of pneumonia while caring for her 16 year old daughter who also was suffering from the illness.    

Berthe Morisot was described by French journalist, art critic, and historian Gustave Geffroy as one of “les trois grandes dames” (the three great ladies) of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt.  Historically their accomplishments have been overshadowed by their male counterparts.  In 2018 Berthe Morisot received a solo retrospective exhibition that traveled Europe and North America which has brought a renewed interest in her work.

I don’t think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that’s all I would have asked for, for I know I’m worth as much as they. – Berthe Morisot

In a Park by Berthe Morisot. Painting of a woman in black dress sitting in a field with a child leaning against her and a black dog looking up at her, a second child plays in the background
In a Park, Berthe Morisot, 1874

Resources & Further Learning

If you enjoyed learning more about this artist, I encourage you to check out more of her paintings and research more in-depth articles about her life and work.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berthe_Morisot
  • https://www.barnesfoundation.org/whats-on/morisot
  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/berthe-morisot-1663
  • https://www.wikiart.org/en/berthe-morisot/all-works#!#filterName:all-paintings-chronologically,resultType:masonry
  • https://www.artnews.com/feature/who-are-the-most-important-female-impressionist-artists-1202695284/

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About the Artist

Photo of Laura Jaen Smith

Laura Jaen Smith is an artist who lives and works out of Horseheads, New York. Her inspiration comes from observing the beauty she sees around her.  After a decade living out west, she returned back to New York State and started seeing the same old places with new eyes.  She is most interested in capturing small moments in nature that might otherwise be overlooked.

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