Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot, French painter and printmaker and one of the founding members of the Impressionist movement, was born on January 14, 1841, in Bourges, France, into a wealthy upper class family. There were three Morisot sisters: Yves (Paule's mother), Edma (who married Adolphe Pontillon) and Berthe. All three sisters were talented painters, though Yves and Edma abandoned their painting -- Yves before marriage and Edma after marriage. Edma wholeheartedly supported Berthe's continued work and the families of the two sisters always remained close. Berthe was was the third daughter of a prominent and wealthy government official by the name of Edme Tiburce Morisot.
Her parents were married in 1835 when her mother, Marie Cornelie Thomas, was 16. They had two daughters, Marie Elisabeth Yves and Marie Edma Caroline, before Berthe was born. A son, Tiburce, was born between 1845 and 1848. Her grandfather was the influential Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Both she and her sister Edma Morisot chose to become painters. In 1851, when she was only ten, Morisot moved to Paris, where she was given classical art lessons receiving instruction in drawing and painting. The Morisot daughters first began painting as children, and it was actually their mother Madame Morisot that inspired them to paint. In 1855 Berthe moved with her family to Passy. In 1858 she desired the three girls take art lessons so that they could present their father with a very special birthday gift.
In 1857 Berthe attended drawing lessons with Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne (1838–57), but in 1858 she and her sister Edma left to study under Joseph-Benoît Guichard, a pupil of Ingres and Delacroix. He had them make drawings from casts of classical sculptures and took them to the Louvre to copy old master works. In the same year they registered as copyists in the Louvre. Her early subject matter included landscapes and marine scenes; later she most frequently painted tranquil portraits of mothers and children.
At the age of 21, after copying masterpieces from the Louvre Museum in the late 1850s under Joseph Guichard, Berthe and Edma began painting outdoor scenes while training with French pastoral painter Camille Corot between the years of 1862 to 1868.
In 1864, two of Morisot’s landscape paintings were accepted for show at the Salon de Paris.
THE OUTBREAK OF THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR
The Franco-Prussian War disrupted the lives of the Morisot family, between the dates of July 15, 1870 to Feb. 1, 1871. When the war broke out between France and Prussia, Berthe Morisot refused exile choosing to remain in the rue Franklin at that time, enduring hardships, cold, and bombing raids, which continued to affected her health for the remainder of her life. The Morisot family took refuge in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. By the time the war ended, the Prussian army occuppied France. Paris had experienced a cataclysmic civil war during the Commune; and the French nation lost possession of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine as well as its collective confidence.
Morisot had many of her paintings accepted by the Salon de Paris but from 1873 on, Morisot exhibited her work alongside many of the Impressionists. Charles Durand-Ruel had exhibited Morisot’s work in group shows at his Paris gallery and also in London and New York. She left Durand-Ruel for her first one-woman show, at the rival Boussod and Valadon Gallery in 1892. Though never commercially successful during her lifetime, Morisot outsold several of her fellow Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir.
MARRIAGE TO EUGENE MANET
A successful exhibition in the Salon de Paris made Manet become aware of Berthe Morisot they became acquainted in 1868. Through this acquaintence, she was introduced to his brother Eugene Manet. During a holiday with the Manet family at the seaside which Berthe recorded in a painting, "In A Villa At The Seaside" (1874) Eugene Manet proposed to her and in 1874, at 33 years of age, she married Eduard Manet's younger brother, Eugène, who was also an artist, a couple of years after the war ended.
After marriage Morisot continued her career, using her maiden name professionally. Eugene was a writer and a political activist that had a great deal of confidence in Berthe's work and gave her his blessing in continuing her career as an artist. Her house at 4 rue de la Princess in Bougival on the Seine then became a social and inspirational centre for the Impressionists. Berthe and Eugène had one child in 1878, a daughter named Julie, born four years after her marriage to Eugène in Paris. Berthe became a regular participant in the Impressionist exhibitions, taking an active part in their organization, and participating in seven out of the eight (missing the fourth in 1879 because she was ill following the birth of her only child). Their daughter Julie became one of Morisot's favorite subjects and later her art student and painting companion.
BERTHE MORISOT'S PAINTING TECHNIQUES
Morisot painted at times en plein air. Almost all of Morisot's paintings were small in size, View of Paris from the Trocadero measures only about 18 by 32 inches. Her later work inclined toward pure impressionism in its rendering of light, while retaining an unusual smoothness of brushwork, both strong horizontal and vertically applied with large touches of paint to the canvas in all directions and omitting detail if it was unnecessary. Morisot worked in various mediums, which included oil and watercolour. Morisot's oil palette shows the influence of Corot. Manet taught Morisot to use pastels and her style reflects his influence in her artwork.
THE LATER YEARS
Between her 1874 marriage and her death in 1895, Berthe Morisot produced over 350 works of art, most of which featured either women or children, and totaling more than 860 paintings in her entire lifetime. Two thirds of these paintings featured either her sisters, their families, or her own daughter Julie. In 1892, her husband Eugene died following a lengthy illness and her husband was buried at the cemetery in Passy. Paule and Jeanne move into the recently purchased chateau in Mesnil of the now widowed aunt Berthe Morisot. Berthe's brother-in-law, friend and mentor, Edouard Manet, died in 1883. After his death, Berthe Morisot came under the influence of Renoir.Berthe Morisot contracted pneumonia and died three years later, on March 2, 1895 in Paris at the age of 54. She wrote a note to her daughter, telling her how much she loved her (her "bibi") just before she died. She was interred in the Cimetière de Passy. Morisot’s friends took care of Julie after her mother’s death, and in 1900 she married Ernest Rouart, son of the affluent engineer and amateur artist Henri Rouart.