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Berthe Morisot: 1841 - 1895

Daughter of a high-ranking civil servant, Morisot was given painting lessons by Joseph-Benoit Guichard, then was influenced by Daubigny and Guillemet. In 1868 she met Edouard Manet, whom she greatly admired, but soon developed a distinctive style that influenced his own painting and encouraged him to work en plein air. Morisot exhibited regularly at the Salon, and at all the Impressionist exhibitions except for 1879. She appears in many of Edouard Manet's paintings, such as The Balcony and Repose. After her marriage to his brother Eugene in 1874, her house in the rue Villejust became a social and inspirational center for the Impressionists.

Berthe Morisot was a grand-daughter of the painter Fragonard and the sister-in-law of Manet, but her interest in painting was not the result of this connection. Early in her career she appeared in the Salon, but she foreswore Salon exhibition as a declaration of faith in the impressionist cause. This faith was enduring; she continued to paint impressionistically after Renoir and others had abandoned the cause. She did more than her share of hard work involved in organizing and maintaining an association of frequently difficult temperaments. Her sister Edma also painted for a while, but quit to become a wife and mother. Berthe successfully combined matrimony, motherhood, and a career.

Morisot's delightful Girl with a Basket, with its sensitivity, flourish, and style could be a particularly light and fresh late Manet. In those days it was customary to say about any woman painter, as if it were the ultimate compliment, that she paints with almost the vigor of a man. But the beauty of Berthe Morisot's art is its femininity, which in her case is not to be confused with weakness, indecision, or an only partial achievement of a masculine standard. One would not want to "strengthen" Woman at Her Toilet no more than one would want to endow its lovely model with the muscles of a wrestler.

Morisot was an extremely engaging correspondent. Her letters are full of illuminating comments on Manet. As a random sample, speaking of The Balcony, she said that Manet's paintings make "the impression of a wild or even slightly green fruit," a very neat characterization of the exotic and somewhat astringent quality of that picture in comparison with the Salon paintings of 1869 among which it appeared.

Berthe Morisot was rather jealous of another woman painter of talent who studied under Manet and followed his manner closely. This was Eva Gonzales, the only painter Manet ever permitted to name him as teacher. She was a competent painter, although obvious in her echo of Manet. She did not exhibit in the group shows, probably because Manet refused to do the same.

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