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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/27/18

Berthe Morisot: Feminist Impressionist Extraordinaire

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Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was the only female artist who participated in the avante-garde Impressionist show of 1874 in Paris, which included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro, among others. Morisot continued to exhibit with the group in seven of their eight shows, only missing one when her baby was born. Art history has not been fair to this extraordinary artist whose work not only rivals, but in most cases surpasses, the skills of many of these other Impressionists.

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She always painted standing up, walking back and forth before her canvas. She would stare at her subject for a long time--and her look was piercing--her hand ready to place her brushstrokes just where she wanted them.

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-attributed to Louise Riesener

"Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist" features approximately 60 works from private and public collections, and is "the first dedicated presentation of her work to be held in the United States since 1987." The outstanding exhibition is currently at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia through Morisot's birthday, Jan. 14, 2019.

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Morisot's skillful brushstrokes reveal an enchanting world of breathtaking luminosity within the activities of daily life. Her lively paintings of outdoor subjects vibrate with a lustrous range of greens and have the palpable effect of bringing the freshness of nature inside the museum walls.

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Morisot and the other Impressionists made a radical departure from the accepted art of the time. Artistic war raged between the French Academicians and the avant-garde.

The Academy was exemplified by the wildly successful artist and influential teacher, William Adolphe Bouguereau. He was a recipient of the Legion of Honor, a president of the Institut de France, a member of the Academy of Fine Arts, and an elitist and absolutist who said, "One shouldn't believe in all those so-called innovations. There is only one nature and only one way to see it."

Bouguereau looked down upon the Impressionists with a vicious disdain (and they didn't think much of him, either!) His highly polished, nearly-perfect academic style paintings capture his mythological subjects in a frozen moment of calculated beauty. But the avant-garde of the time, later dubbed the "Impressionists," rebelled against that perspective; they preferred to depict modern and casual subjects with freshness, movement, and light.

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Bouguereau's stunningly painted figures, as beautiful as they are, never seem to actually breathe, while Morisot's passionate brushwork evokes luminous life and vibrating movement with a spontaneity that labored brushwork is unable to evoke.

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Morisot bravely swam against the artistic current of the times to develop her Impressionist style. During a time in which women were denied the full art education that men enjoyed, she and her sisters studied painting with landscape and portrait painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and other private teachers. Later, Berthe was mentored by Edouard Manet, and modeled for him for several of this paintings.

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After marrying Manet's younger brother, Eugene, Morisot also rebelled against social mores, keeping her own name and continuing her professional career after both marriage and motherhood. Her artist-husband essentially let his own career take a back seat while he supported hers.

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How is it possible for a painter of such extraordinary skill to have escaped the spotlighted celebrity status of her compadres?

For one thing, the seven-pound, 750-page campus "bible" of art history, H. W. Janson's ''History of Art'' (pub. 1962), didn't mention a single female artist's name in its first 25 years of publication. That's right, no Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mary Cassatt, Artemisia Gentileschi. Nada. So anyone who studied art history in college before 1987, when Janson's son finally updated the tome, would have surmised that the art world of humans was entirely populated by men.

The senior Janson's omissions have caused a significant loss of understanding, so this exhibition is an excellent opportunity to discover the truth about one of the many female artists who deserve much more recognition than they have received.

In spite of the title (which would have benefitted by being a bit less condescending) "Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist" is one of the three best and most important exhibitions I have seen in my life, the two others were exhibits of works by Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent.

The exhibition was co-organized by the Muse'e national des beaux-arts du Que'bec, the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia), the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Muse'e d'Orsay, Paris. After the exhibit at the Barnes ends on Jan. 14, 2019, it will continue at the Dallas Museum of Art from Feb 24, 2019 through May 26, 2019 (at 1717 N. Harwood St., Dallas, TX 75201.) From June 17 through September 22, 2019 the exhibition will be at the Muse'e d'Orsay in Paris.


OpEdNews Managing Editor, Meryl Ann Butler, studied art for seven years in New York with Harold R. Stevenson, a student of Norman Rockwell. She has taught art for over 40 years to students from pre-school age to the University level, and she has owned and operated two art schools, currently running Ocean View Arts in Norfolk, VA, where she teaches and creates art.


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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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