If you remember the wall calendars showing smiling women stretching seductively in swimwear, your mind is transported back to the 40s and 50s, when curvy pin-ups were all the rage. The National Gallery’s 2021 calendar clearly indicates that those days are over. They still have the woman, but it’s her work, not her body: 12 paintings by French impressionist Berthe Morisot.
The National Gallery of Art pays tribute to Morizo by celebrating his place in history as a founding member of the Impressionists, the only woman in the group, and an essential figure in the… She paints some of her extraordinary works. Using quiet colors in a disordered and unfinished way, Morisot tried to represent women in their personal time – their mother, sister, daughter, nieces – but never in an objective way.
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Yet it was never what she painted, but the way she painted it, that distinguished Morizot from her impressionist colleagues. His brushwork was looser, almost to the point of abstraction. A headline in the art news described her as the most relentless innovator of the Impressionists, who eventually succeeded in making an almost complete transition from Impressionism to abstraction. Explaining her unfinished style, she said she wanted her painting to capture something that would fade.
Paul Manz, an art critic of Moriso’s time, criticized the 1877 exhibition as the only true impressionist. Not that such recognition distinguished the sexist women of the time, who described their work as flirtatious and charming – words missing from the criticism of their male counterparts.
Art News notes that sexist comments continue to be made in Morisot. In 2018, her first exhibition took place at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, entitled The Impressionist Woman. Imagine if an exhibition of, say, Salvador Dali were subtitled Male Surrealist. To this day Morisot is less well known than the other impressionists Renoir and Monet.
Art historian Carol Strickland, who viewed Morizo’s 2018 exhibition, pointedly questioned why his reputation lags behind that of the Impressionist Boys Club, which hosts only one person at a time.
I’m surprised Morisot never met his requirements, since he was banned from art school. She had private tutors, including the painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.
She also studied painting by old masters at the Louvre, where she met Édouard Manet. I don’t know if they were lovers, but he hung three pictures of her in his room. She also posed for him and can be seen in his painting Balcony. Yet she married Manet’s brother, Eugène, whom she drew while playing with their daughter Julie.
Manet continues to encourage Morisot’s abilities by inviting him to participate in the first exhibition of avant-garde painting – six artists refuse to participate in the Paris Salon. They called their exhibition Salon des Refuses and were called crazy in a review in Le Figaro by Albert Wolff, who alluded to Morisot’s feminine grace. Sexism aside, he thought she was a highlight of the show.
She died of pneumonia at the age of 54. At her first solo exhibition three years earlier, she had written about women artists: The truth is that we are worth something and we add that if we are lucky and not disabled, we can achieve a lot. She’s accomplished a lot, but that has nothing to do with luck.
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