Berthe Morisot, equal to equal – Culture / Next

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What paints a woman who is a great artist in a society that does not want women to be artists? Nothing indicates this difficulty better than a letter written in 1858 by the painter Joseph Benoît Guichard to the mother of Berthe and Edma Morisot, then very young, whom he trains in drawing and painting. He has discovered their qualities and is afraid of them: "My teaching will not give them polite little talents; they will become painters. Do you realize what that means? In your bourgeois milieu, it would be a revolution, I would almost say a catastrophe. "

Let us observe again, in Orsay, in eight sections bringing together many works from private collections, the splendor and the chic of this catastrophe; once again, for Berthe Morisot has long been recognized, at least by amateurs, for what she is: a central figure in Impressionism (1). Her portraits of women, children, seascapes and gardens, especially in the 1870s, the way she inscribes her models in the open air, interiors, modern life, have nothing to envy to the works of others . His palette and his presences have their own charm, their sadness in the shade, their floating, their silence. We take the train to the station Saint-Lazare and we find ourselves in paradise, a beautiful place where we dream, but where it is not necessarily so good to live. Central figure, therefore, but always more or less underexposed. A sentence from her, written on an oyster-colored wall, recalls what she could think of her place and the sense, predictable and justified, of this exhibition: "I do not think there was ever a man treating a woman as an equal, and that's all I would have asked, because I know I'm worth it." Did she think of her Impressionist companions? Renoir, who painted the flesh, dresses and smiles of women so well, thought that a woman who paints is ridiculous. On July 14, 1891, she wrote to Stéphane Mallarmé, his great friend: "Your sentence:" I work, and apply myself to age "is absolutely me. If you always spoke in my place! – I am not displeased with myself and I am wrong to say it because it will bring me bad luck.

title: In England (Eugene Manet on the Isle of Wight) by Berthe Morisot. 1875"In England (Eugene Manet on the Isle of Wight)", 1875. Marmottan Museum. Bridgeman Art Library

Black ribbon

His body suffered when his daughter Julie was born; she died at 54 years old. The course could have opened on one of the portraits that made her elder and brother-in-law Edouard Manet: when you read a text about her, it's usually one of these portraits, it's true of a rare depth of meaning, which illustrates it. And, Berthe Morisot with the bouquet of violets, painted in 1872 by Manet, is like the balcony, where she appears, in this museum. Sylvie Patry, the curator, preferred to start with a portrait of her less famous, simple, painted by her sister Edma around 1865. Berthe was 24 years old. It gives meaning to what we will see: autonomy and intimacy.

Next door, immediately, a jewel of Orsay, the cradle, painted the same year as Berthe Morisot with the bouquet of violets. A young woman, chin in her left hand, puts her right hand on the cradle where a child sleeps. The woman's eyes, half-open, are pensive. She has a black ribbon around her neck. She is one of the Morisot sisters, each having just given birth to a second child. They regularly serve as models. Around, everything is only veils and curtains clear, more or less transparent. The pink and gray, with touches of a pale blue, often give the tone of the artist to 30 years. A peak is reached with Woman at her toilet, painted between 1875 and 1880. The woman is behind, in the process of combing her hair; seized in the action that the canvas suspends. Again, the black ribbon around the neck. The back and shoulders are bare; the dress, between gray and white. It is the bottom of the canvas on the right which, by attracting the eye, magnifies it: pure painting, abstract mixture of gray, blue, white, violet. What dresses the subject is no longer in the things seen, but in the imperceptible swarm of sensations which makes him float among them.

The catalog of the first exhibition after his death, in 1896, is prefaced by Stéphane Mallarmé. It begins like this – and, as the writer's words make painting into a mystery, the reader is asked a little effort to feel what there is sensible charge and mystery behind every word, in every acceleration of meaning, and each apparent syntax hole: "So many clear iridescent pictures, here, exact, primal, they can wait with the future smile, will agree that as a title to the booklet that classifies them, a Name, before resolving in their quality, for himself pronounced or charm extraordinary with which it was worn, evokes a figure of race, in life and personal extreme elegance. " Here, an infinity of questions. What is the name of Morisot's work in a world where, when a woman of this class paints, one begins to wonder what is in her feminine nature and culture, and usually finish with that? What are these "Clear iridescent pictures", "Exact, premiums", whose way changes, beginning on the side of Corot, pursuing on the side of Manet, passing on Renoir's side, to finish not far from a bath of Bonnard or a silhouette of Munch? But to ask the question like that does not mean removing from Morisot a specificity, an artistic power that can lead one to ask oneself: what airflow did it circulate among them for twenty years, at a crucial period in the history of painting? What do Manet and Renoir, on the other hand, owe him? What do these gouaches, these pastels, and especially these wonderful portraits of women springing from a painting intentionally unfinished, as if blooming in the emptiness of the canvas, owe to the high education of the reader of Stendhal and La Rochefoucauld who paints them? ? How is Morisot the heiress of the sensual Fragonard and the stoic Marquise du Deffand? How does her status as a woman orient her subjects and her successive styles? How does she give to see melancholy? Is it an exclusively feminine melancholy? Or is this melancholy, worn on the canvas by women, young girls, a filter that his gaze poses on all life? What subjects can she paint, what subjects can she paint? Looking at interior, painted again in 1872, Woman and child on the balcony (same year), or In England (1875), we dream of an exhibition that would compare his works with those of Manet, without worry of competition and without any kind of prevention; who compares, without precedence, the frames of the one and the other; which would put in presence the ironic absence of the women of Manet and the almost savage anxiety, always retained, of the women of Morisot; which would mirror their sensualities.

Little hats

Let's take the woman in brownWinter (1880). Her hands in a black cloak, clad in brown, she is leaning forward a little and staring at us, with her black irises, with a violence, a direct force that all her chic restrains. It belongs, in real life, to the world of Manet; but it's not a creature of Manet. She does not have her type of insolence, of putting at a distance. She does not have her free neutrality. It is not a man who gives him the scandal of liberty; it is a woman who lives the scandal of the lack of freedom which she must, day after day, fill; and yet, like all Morisot's women, no matter how angry or frustrated they are, she does not renounce beauty – on the contrary. In a notebook of 1885, the artist writes: "It seems to me that Rubens is perhaps the only painter who has completely restored beauty; the moist look, the shadows of the eyelashes, the transparent skin, the silky hair, the grace of the attitude … " Stéphane Mallarmé, who was his friend and who approached Claude Monet, wrote to him on June 27, 1891: "Do you, apple trees ask? And little girls with flutes underneath … " This reconstructed Eden, born of beautiful properties, we also see it. Atmosphere, atmosphere … Gide called him, not without condescension, the "Berthe Morisot liquid". Yes, but a liquid that flows and penetrates in a particular way. For example, in another View of England from 1875. Two children, a boy and a girl, in the middle of a translucent green meadow, with their little hats on their heads. In the background, the gray roofs and pink chimneys of a village. The children have small black eyes. Dolls, put there, collected by the painter. Morisot is on a honeymoon with her husband Eugene. She paints often, with difficulty, in the open air. In London, she admires the paintings of Turner, Gainsborough, Hogarth. A few months earlier, Rimbaud was still on the island, having sold, he wrote earlier to Verlaine, "Your trousers, black and gray, a coat and a vest, the bag and the hatbox".

(1) The last exhibition, in France, at the Marmottan museum, dates from 2012.

Philippe Lancon

Berthe Morisot Musée d'Orsay, Paris, until 22 September.

. (tagsToTranslate) Painting (t) Female (s) Edouard Manet (t) Berthe Morisot (t) Child (s) Black (t) England (t) Auguste Renoir (t) Freedom (t) Impressionism (t) Stéphane Mallarmé ( t) Museum of

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