Art, Exhibitions, Impressionism, Museum, Painters

ArtExhibition: Berthe Morisot at Musée d’Orsay

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that last week I went to Paris to attend the inaugural conference and to visit the exhibition of Berthe Morisot at the Musée d’Orsay. So, in today’s post I will tell you everything about the conference and the exhibition.

Morisot is one of the leading figures of the Impressionism who remains almost unknow for the big public until this day. However, she was recognised for her contemporaries not only as one of them but as one of the most innovative painters of the movement.

Le berceau, 1872 – Musée d’Orsay

At the Conference, Sylvie Patry, one of the curators of the exhibition and also Director of Conservation and Collections at the Musée d’Orsay, talked about the issues of Berthe Morisot been often viewed through a feminine/femininity perspective, in praise and in criticism, explaining how this issue was treated in the exhibition.

The exhibition is set as a travel throughout the career of this amazing artist who faced and broke the rules of the academic painting of her time and of the Parisian high bourgeoisie, to which she belonged, to become an important figure of French avant-garde in late 1860s. Throughout the exhibition we can discover more on Morisot’s personality and thoughts on art, as that she believed that painting must aspire to “fix something that happens” and should endeavour to reach it, which explains why she explored themes of women’s modern life as the privacy of a bourgeois family or the importance of fashion. Also, the exhibition allows us to see how her paintings blurred the lines that divided indoor-outdoor, private-public and finished-unfinished.

The Exhibition

The exhibition can be divided in seven parts:

Painting the modern life: paintings that show which activities there were in Paris by that time, especially the activities allowed to a woman.

« Mettre une figure en plein air »: as we can see by the name, in this part of the exhibition are that works which depicted the life outdoors and some of her landscapes.

La « beauté de l’être en toilette »: Morisot painted around twenty images of women in toilette, these paintings are also considered as images of the women modern life and it is also a very common subject among the impressionists. It celebrates the space of intimacy, the private atmosphere that surrounds the woman in her most intimate moment. It is also in this part of the exhibition that we can see the importance of the fashion through the images of women dressed to go to the theatre.

Finished/Unfinished – “to fix something that happens”: the discussion around the finish/unfinished it is present in all Morisot’s production, it’s also in the centre of the debates on Impressionism. But is in the work of Morisot that we can find the most radical experimentations, in both outdoors and indoors scenes, especially from her works of the late 1870s onwards.

Women working: this is a very interesting part of the exhibition since we can appreciate some of her depictions of women working, sewing, doing the laundry and other household chores; but the two more important images are, first one of her daughter wet nurse which is important because she decided to depict her daughter not with her in a beautiful maternal scene, instead she decided to depict other woman with Julie, a woman taking care of somebody else’s daughter, a woman at work. And her self-portrait, a portrait of an artist, of a painter, of a woman who has a profession.

Windows and thresholds: this part of the exhibition shows scenes placed in interior spaces but in which, sometimes, indoor and outdoor get united and almost merged together.

En Angleterre (Eugène Manet à l’ille de Wight), 1875 – Musée Marmottan Monet

A workshop of one’s own – « un atelier à soi »: as a reference to Virginia Woolf’s quote “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Morisot escaped the financial difficulties and economic dependence denounced by Woolf in her book A room of one’s own throughout her career. Even if she has not always had a workshop strictly speaking, she was able to prepare spaces of creation, sometimes working in the living room of her house, as Julie comment in her diary « Ma mère travaillait dans le salon, qui n’était pas très grand et avait un haut plafond, avec une fenêtre intérieure donnant sur une pièce de l’étage supérieure ; elle l’avait copiée sur l’église du Gesù dans la vieux Nice… » (“My mother worked in the living room, which was not very big and had a high ceiling, with an interior window overlooking a room on the upper floor; she had copied it on the church of Gesù in old Nice … “).

One of the beautiful and innovative subjects treated in her paintings is the paternity, we are used to see in many paintings by other artists treating the maternity, for instance Mary Cassatt preferred to show the relationship between mother and child, Morisot on the contrary, chose to show the relationship between father and child, using as models her own family.

To sum up, the exhibition is like a link between the public and the work of Berthe Morisot, connecting us with thoughts about art, about painting and with her own life.


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