Berthe Morisot (pronunciation here) is one of the least well known of the original Impressionist painters. She is often grouped with American painter Mary Cassatt as one of the two “female Impressionists”. It is a comparison that makes sense, though, in that both painters brought intimate domestic scenes into the Impressionist canon, as well as painting still life, landscapes and scenes of public life as was more common among their colleagues.
Morisot studied with several painters, notably Camille Corot and, informally, with Edouard Manet. She would become lifelong friends with Manet, and eventually married his brother, Eugène Manet.
Morisot was successfully exhibiting in the Salon — the official juried show of the French art establishment — and could have continued to do so, but joined instead with the “rejected artist” Impressionists for their independent exhibitions, from the first one onward.
Little is known of Morisot’s early style, as she was so critical of her own work that she destroyed most of what she did during her training years. She was experimental, working with pastel, watercolor and oil, and exploring variations in the Impressionist style later in her career.
She experimented with leaving parts of her canvas unfinished, giving many of her works a casual, informal appeal. Though she was influenced by her Impressionist colleagues, she was also an influence on them, and was highly regarded for her subtle color and innovative compositions.
Personally, I find her early landscapes particularly appealing, with their free brushwork over a firm foundation of drawing, an approach that shows the influence of Corot. Her figures and domestic scenes also have a combined feeling of strong composition and loose, gestural handling.
The exhibition is excellent, with a broad overview of Morisot’s work and beautiful examples, well annotated. With the exception of two pieces, photography is permitted.
(A note about visiting the Barnes: The Barnes Foundation is one of the more expensive museums in the Philadelphia area, and admission prices may seem prohibitive to some, but the museum does have a monthly free access day that is not widely publicized: Free First Sunday Family Day is open to all, not just families. It starts at 10:00 am instead of the usual 11:00 opening time, and it’s best to get there early. The next one is on January 6, 2019, at which time the Morisot show will still be on display.)