Who is That Woman? Manet & Meurent

Who is That Woman? Manet & Meurent

Detail of “Olympia” by Edouard Manet, 1863, in Musée d’Orsay
Victorine Meurent is Manet’s most frequent model of his early career.  She shocked audiences as the indifferent courtesan in Olympia (above), exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1864.  A year earlier, Victorine had scandalized Parisians, playing the part of a shameless woman who disrobed during a midday picnic. That was her role in Manet’s revolutionary painting, Le déjeuner sur lherbe(The Luncheon on the Grass– see on bottom) exhibited at the Salon des Refusées for the officially rejected paintings of that year.  She is just the matter-of-fact figure that Manet wanted, and there is nothing beautiful, sexual or erotic in either image. In both paintings, she is not an individual but the object, the sexual object.
Manet also painted Victorine as Young Lady (also called Woman with a Parrot), in 1866. She looks taller in her long pink gown. There’s a magnificent unpeeled lemon on the ground. The symbols in the painting may allude to the five senses and suggest that she is a mistress.  But she is a sympathetic one, one who even seems satisfied with her status as a mistress.  However, it’s hard to see each of these paintings as representative of the same woman. One supposes that Victorine refused to model naked again, after all the attention of Olympia and Le déjeuner...  had received.
Manet, Young Lady, 1866, Metropolitan
What was Manet’s relationship to Victorine?  They could have met in the studio of Thomas Couture, Manet’s painting teacher.   Born in 1844, Meurent started modelling there at age 16 and even may have taken lessons with Couture.  According to her wikipedia biography, Victorine also played guitar and violin, and sang occasionally.  She came from a family of minor artisans, and was probably not as poor as many painters’ models at that time.  
Manet, The Street Singer, 1862, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Manet’s first painting of her was The Street Singer.  She looks shy, hurried and slightly guarded.   Her brown dress is rumpled as she carried a guitar coming out of a building.  She quickly grabs a bite to eat from the cherries in her napkin.   Of all the paintings he did of her, this is perhaps the most revealing of Victorine, of who she was and what her life was to become.  Artistic and musical, she worked hard.
Shortly after The Street Singer, he painted her portrait, Portrait of Victorine Meurent.  She is pretty, resembling the photograph of her that Manet kept in his studio. She looks older than her 18 years in this painting, and she has an air of sophistication.   Again she doesn’t resemble women modeled in Manet’s two early masterpieces of 1863, Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.  
Manet, Portrait of Victorine Meurent, 1862, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Manet must have loved her for her versatility, the fact she could appear quite differently from painting to painting.   Her nickname was La Crevette, meaning “shrimp.”  She was quite short and had red or auburn hair.  Her eyes appear brown or hazel, while her hair can appear brown, red or of indeterminate color. In the portrait, he brought out all those qualities he saw in her as “beautiful.”   Here, she also seems to be the real woman, the woman we see in the photograph collected by Manet.  With Victorine as the subject, Manet did not objectify her at all!
Manet, Mlle Victorine in the Costume of an Espada, 1862
However, most of the time, Manet pursued Victorine’s image for special effects.  She is a prop, much like the fabrics, costumes and materials he kept in his studio.  Mademoiselle Victorine in the Costume of the Espada is one of many paintings Manet did in a Spanish theme.  Victorine is recognizable as the same woman as in Le déjeuner. (He painted this image a year earlier than Le dejeuner…) She is dressed like a bullfighter, and for the background Manet borrows from bullfighting prints by Goya.  Manet was experimenting with raised perspective and compositional space, years before Van Gogh and Munch did the same.  The pink cape she holds is study in painting fabric and color.  
Was Manet being ironic by turning her into a bullfighter?  Perhaps, but he also knew Victorine as a patient and willing model.   He’s experimenting dramatically with both color and space here, and perhaps he didn’t have a male model up to task.  Perhaps her small body best served his purpose.
It’s the arms and the hands and the eyes which say the most about Victorine in all the paintings.  On the other hand, when Manet painted Berthe Morisot, he also used the tilt of the head to convey the depth of his sentiment for her.
My thoughts about Manet and Meurent’s relationship is that it was a strong, professional relationship.   Was she his mistress?  No.  Like a good film director, Manet treated Victorine as the woman who could be cast in many roles.  Victorine was to Manet as Diane Keaton was to Woody Allen’s early film career. Victorine was to Manet as Penelope Cruz was to Pedro Almodóvar.   Later on, these film directors found other muses.
Manet, The Railway (also called Gare Saint-Lazare), 1872, National Gallery of Art, Washington
After a pronounced lull in painting Victorine after 1866, Manet painted her again in The Railway of 1872.  At this time Victorine was 29, but she looked remarkably younger than she appeared in Olympia and Le Dejeuner.   She is a woman who is nostalgic, a woman who looks to the past, while the girl beside her is all excited about the future. She is blasé about the train and wishes the future would not intrude so much into the present.  Again, Victorine showed herself to be an actress who could play different roles — in her own standoffish way.
Victorine took up painting in the 1870s and she was accepted into the Salon at least 6 times.  The only surviving painting is a portrait called Palm Sunday.  It is quite good as a painting, but her style was far more traditional than Manet’s. She models the sitter with traditional, nuanced light and shade to make the face three-dimensional.  The sitter turns to the side, which doesn’t really convey the personality. She even projects the plant closer to the picture plane and edge of the painting, giving it significant attention, too  While Meurent frequently posed as prostitute, her only painting known today is of a young participant in a religious procession. Victorine was in her 40s by that time, but her choice of subject is ironic if we know of the types of paintings for which she posed.
Victorine Meurent, Palm Sunday, 1885, Musée de l’art et l’histoire, Colombes
After Manet died in 1884, Victorine went to Suzanne Leenhoff, Manet’s widow, and told her she had been promised more income from Manet as some of the paintings for which she modeled sold. Suzanne coldly refused her request.  
Who was Victorine?  She was essentially an honest woman, who made an honest living as a model.  She worked hard in art and in music. She had minor successes from time to time, but fought back well when she hit hard times. Victorine sought artistic expression, but not fame or notoriety.  Manet definitely wanted public affirmation, not the angry outcry that he was receiving while she was his muse.  She modeled for other artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec, who teased her by calling her out as Olympia.
Manet, Olympia, 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Victorine may have been very interested in projecting Manet’s artistic objectives, but later pursued her own artistic objectives along different lines.   (In Le déjeuner sur l‘herbe and Olympia, Manet sought to modernize the themes of Giorgione and Titian of the Renaissance. He remakes them to be of his time, in the style we call Realism.) The audiences who saw these masterpieces probably didn’t know the model‘s identity. They thought nudity portraying mythological themes of the Renaissance or in the guise of goddesses and muses was absolutely fine.  Even portraying the prostitute could have been ok, if it had been done tastefully as in Goya’s Nude Maya.   However, Victorine played the part too well, conveying the distasteful side of the world’s oldest profession–that she is treated as object, not person.  She, herself, probably did not engage in sex for money, but she acted the part so well.
Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1862-1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Victorine is the symbol of a time and place. Although interwoven with the men, her frank stare seems to say to the audience, “I don’t give a damn what you think.” Is Manet judging like the 19th century audience did?  More likely he recognizes the good and the bad. The advantage is that prostitution is a way to rise above one’s class and make a living. (Like the Valtesse de la Bigne, some women rose from abject poverty to the top of the social world this way.)  The bad is the de-personalization that comes with it.  My opinion is that Manet often found her to be the best model to make a statement of the ambiguities of modern life that he wished to express. Throughout his career, Manet sought ways to reconcile the ambiguities of his time. Tomorrow will be Manet’s 185th birthday, and we’re still discussing the treatment of women. So today we witness the women’s march on Washington against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s Inauguration.  (There’s a 19th century French expression: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”  The more things change, the more they stay the same thing.)  Please don’t get angry at me for saying it again. Certainly other models, the actresses and actors of Manet’s oeuvre, also have the detached gaze. Such impersonal expressions went along with the modern, urban life.   (Suzon, the barmaid in The Bar at the FoliesBergère, says it just as well, or even better.  But she came later.)  Meurent channeled the expression better than almost anyone over time. As Manet’s first important muse, her soul lives on for posterity.
There arenovels about Victorine Meurent, none of which I’ve read: Paris Red, by Maureen Gibbon, Mademoiselle Victorine: A Novel, by Debra Finerman and A Woman with No Clothes, by V.R. Main.  She has stirred the imagination of writers more than Manet and his relationship to Berthe Morisot, with whom he was in love.  Manet even portrayed Berthe Morisot more often, and in more guisesI think it’s because Victorine took part in two of his three most famous paintings.    Here are three more blogs about Victorine Meurent and Manet.
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

The Last Missing Pieces of The Monuments Men

Jan Van Eyck, Mary, part of the Deesis composition,  detail
of The Ghent Altarpiece in St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, c. 1430
photo source: Wikipedia

The Monuments Men is a true story about saving cultural artifacts in war.  George Clooney has done a great job acting and directing this film which has an important message about art, what it means for us and the efforts some would go to save culture. One woman who played a huge part in saving art is shown and Cate Blanchett played that role with depth and finesse.   An all-star cast doesn’t guarantee good reviews, but I often disagree with movie reviewers.   Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin star in the movie, too.

Tourists in front of the Ghent Altarpiece in recent times. A film, The Monuments Men,
explores its theft and recovery in World War II.  Photo source: daydreamtourist.com

The star monument is Jan Van Eyck’s The Ghent Altarpiece, an example of one of the earliest oil paintings. (If students had seen the movie, they would have known it on a test, but the film was released only 5 days earlier and we had a snowstorm) In fact, the last missing part of the Ghent Altarpiece, was the panel of Mary, mother of Jesus from a Deesis grouping (an iconographic type western painters adopted from the eastern Orthodox Church).  She is exquisitely beautiful and radiant. Van Eyck’s ability to visualize heavenly splendor and beauty in paint is astounding.  I appreciate the film for showing how big the altarpiece actually is, and how a polyptych, of many panels, needed to be broken up into its parts to be moved.  Actually, I wonder if Van Eyck and the patrons knew that using the polyptych format, rather than just a three-part triptych, would have its advantages in the time of war.  Actually that painting has been the victim of crime 13 times and stolen 7 times, including the times of the Reformation, Napoleon and World War I.

Michelangelo’s  Bruges Madonna, the last work to be
recovered, is under glass at the Church of Our Lady
in Bruges.  Photo source:Wikipedia

The other star monument is Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, a free-standing sculpture the artist did shortly after The Pieta.  It was the last and most precious piece to be found.  The film makes an important point about the British man who insisted on protecting it during the war.  I’m honored to have seen both monuments in their current homes and thank the determined people who sacrificed so much to do this for posterity.  (I also love that the movie gives goes into the Hospital of Sint-Jans in Bruges and gives good views of the medieval cities of Bruges and Ghent, even in the night time.  Thanks for acknowledging to what these places represent to earlier European culture.

Much of the film is about uncovering the mysteries, as well as anticipating the need for protection.  It has both comic and tragic elements, as we watch injury and death and the dangers that common to all war.  Not all paintings were saved, however.  Some works ended up in Russia after the war and are still there.  Picassos and Max Ernst paintings, even in German hands, were determined to be decadent and burned.   The movie showed a Raphael portrait of a young man that has never been found.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, c. 1490, is a
portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, and an early work of Leonardo.  It’s
in the Czarytorski Museum in Krakow  Photo source: Wikipedia

Among the paintings captured by the Nazis, saved and uncovered by the rescue team of  Americans, French and English were: a Rembrandt portrait, a Renoir, a Van Gogh, Manet’s In the Conservatory and Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine which had been taken from Krakow, Poland.  Most of these paintings were shown to be hidden in underground mines.  I’ve checked a little bit into the history of each of these and found that the Leonardo had been hidden in a castle in Bavaria.  The Nazis stole the Manet from a museum in Berlin, and it’s not clear to me why they would do that unless it was planned to be in Hitler’s own museum.

The movie may have intentional inaccuracies. It also looked like a poor replica of Leonardo’s  Ginevre de’ Benci was in the movie, and I am not sure if that could be accurate.  That painting, as far as I know, already had been in the Mellon Collection that became part of the National Gallery.

There is much more to the story, I know, because Italy was allied with Nazis during most of the war  and those works of art needed to be protected, too. At the point of action where the movie had started, most of the works in France had already been protected.  The Monuments Men deals mostly with works in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Robert Edsel wrote the book that is the basis for the movie.   I certainly hope to read it now, as well as another followup book he published last year, Saving Italy.

Edouard Manet, In the Conservatory, 1879, Altes Museum Berlin  Photo: Wikipedia
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Manet and Morisot: The Tale of Love and Sadness in the Portraits

Manet, The Repose, 1870, Rhode Island School of Design.   Berthe Morisot is at rest,
but the seascape behind her could symbolize an inner restlessness behind
her calm demeanor. 

Why hasn’t the love story of painters Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot been told in film?  (Both Manet and Morisot are represented in large numbers at the exhibition, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, formerly at Musée d’Orsay, but now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and onto the Art Institute of Chicago this summer.  Morisot was the subject of a large retrospective at Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, last year, and her work, like much Impressionism, is so much better when viewed in real life rather than reproduction.)

Manet, a “people person” and painter of people, is the one artist of the past I would wish to meet above all others.  Morisot, one of his muses, is the artist with whom I empathize more than any other.  She loved in a painful way, but her only consolation was to marry his brother.

Berthe Morisot, The Harbor at Lorient, 1869, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Manet’s portraits of her are compelling.  Manet , a man of paradox, painted realistic themes in an audacious style  which was shocking to the mid-19th century. Yet he was conventional, proper, well-dressed and conservative in so many ways.  His political ideas were progressive, but he was patriotic and enlisted in the National Guard during the Prussians’ siege of Paris in 1870. Deeply hurt by art criticism, Manet’s honor was also so important to him that he challenged an art critic to a duel by sword. Duels were remnants of the medieval era, very rare in 19th  in 19th century France.  The charismatic artist was the ultimate elegant Parisian, the first modern painter but deeply rooted in the past.  


Portrait of Édouard Manet, by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1867, Art Institute of Chicago
Fantin-Latour  introduced Manet and Morisot, an important personal
and artistic relationship. 

Last week I watched a movie about Modigliani, but the story of Manet and Morisot’s love, perhaps an unrequited love, is far more interesting.  An actress with the soulful eyes and depth of Juliette Binoche would be an ideal choice to play Berthe, although there are younger stars like Audrey Tautou who could do justice to her character.  I can think of many actors who could be the confidant, dapper Manet With the right script and right director, this story in film could be even more interesting than films of artists like Jackson Pollock, Vincent Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo, artists known for their tempestuous lives.

Manet, The Balcony, 1868, in the Salon of 1869,
now in Musée d’Orsay, Paris

While waiting for this film to be made, we can track the story and trace much of the love and feeling in Manet’s 12 portraits of Berthe. She was his leading muse, as he painted her more times than anyone else.  Many of Manet’s people are distinctive for their air of nonchalance, and they end up revealing themselves if only by expressing a desire not to let us get to know them.  Manet had many female models but Berthe was different, as he tapped into her soul and seemed to know the longing and wistfulness that was inside.  These portraits are tantalizing and mysterious, and they come in many forms, but leave us guessing the extent of their relationship. Manet’s The Repose, at the top of this page, shows Berthe relaxed and dreaming on a sofa, but the image of a Japanese sea storm above her suggest turmoil may lurk beneath her quiet demeanor.


Manet first painted Berthe Morisot in The Balcony, but with two figures not in communication with each other or with the viewer.  Berthe’s black eyes grab all the attention.  Hers is the only face which is revealing, while the others have expressive hand gestures.  The second woman who posed for Manet, violinist Fanny Claus, appears vapid and vacant next to the pensive Berthe leaning on a green balcony.  The man, painter Antoine Guillemet, enters from behind and a boy is vaguely seen in the black background.  The womens’ white dresses are in daylight, vividly contrasting with darkness behind while a plush dog and porcelain planter below Berthe’s feet add textural richness of the painting.  It is “focused on her air of compelling beauty, her mystery and the complex inner struggle reflected in her face.”  (Sue Roe, reference below)

Manet, Berthe Morisot with a Muff, 1869

By most accounts, excluding her own, Berthe Morisot was stunning.  Her beauty comes across in her deep, dark eyes and delicate, chiseled features we see in Manet’s portrayals of her.  She was elegant and filled with social refinement.  One contemporary account described her as so full of politeness and graciousness towards others as to make acquaintances of less manners uncomfortable.  Yet she broke with convention in pursuit of career in art and in the pursuit of a art style outside of tradition.                
                                  

She and Manet came from similar background, he as the oldest of three boys and she as the youngest daughter in a family three girls and one younger boy.  Their parents walked in the same social circles.  He spent time in the Navy, and it was awhile before his father finally agreed that he could pursue a career in art instead of law.  Though it was hardly typical of women to become painters at the time, it seems that the Morisot parents were encouraging of the daughters who studied under a famous artist, Camille Corot.  Berthe was the most serious, the only one to continue that career through marriage and motherhood.  

Photo of Berthe Morisot, c. 1870

However, Manet was 9 years older and married when they met copying paintings at the Louvre copying in 1867.  Each of them had already submitted paintings which had been accepted in France’s annual Salon, the yearly review of what was in judges’ views considered the best art of the time.  Édouard Manet’s reputation was controversial on account of his subjects and the way he painted them.  Berthe was very taken with him immediately, but of course younger French painters who were interested in breaking new artistic ground, including Monet and Renoir, also revered Manet. 
   

Manet, Berthe Morisot with Fan, 1872

It appears that Berthe’s mother was her chaperone whenever she went to Manet’s studio, as befitted her social class.   Manet wife was Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch piano teacher his father had hired years earlier to teach the Manet brothersHe married her shortly after his father died, perhaps out of obligation to protect the reputation of his father, a judge. It’s likely that the older Manet was the father of a mysterious son she brought into the marriage, Léon Leenhoff, another favorite model of Manet’s.  Léon always referred to Manet as his godfather, but was probably a half-brother.  Manet’s marriage was not an easy love and he had other liaisons.  However, he was always protective of his family name and loyal to this immediate family, although no children were born in the union. In his will, it was made clear the inheritance would pass from Suzanne to Léon(Some writers believe Manet was the father, but if that were true, social conditions would not force him to cover that the boy was born out of wedlock.)

The letters of Berthe Morisot were published by a grandson who edited them, perhaps leaving out things intended to remain private.  In letters to her mother and sisters, she confessed strong feelings for Manet, fraught with jealousies, frustrations and the pain that it could not be more.  Much of her self-doubt has to do with her frustrations as an artist, a situation most artists have at some point.  Personally, I cannot stand when writers attribute female artists’ inner difficulties primarily to gender politics. Suggestions that Morisot and Manet were in competition or that he tried to hold her back are off the mark.  In letters between the mother and other sisters, it’s clear that the mom feared for her youngest daughter who pined for Manet and sometimes didn’t eat.  Berthe was unable to stay away from him, and he appears to have been quite attached, too.    As friends, they shared an intellectual and artistic kinship.

Manet, Berthe Morisot with Violets, 1872

Berthe Morisot with Violets, 1872, seems for many observers to express the growing love between Manet and Morisot.   To me, it is Manet’s painting of her in which Berthe seems the most forthright and the most confident.   Berthe’s gaze is usually quite intense, a characteristic also found in the few photographs which exist.

However, in Berthe Morisot with a Fan, 1872, she covers her face, hinting that real intimacy with the artist was socially forbidden.   Berthe Morisot with a Veil , 1874, also conveys the social blockage in the relationship.   While working closely with Berthe, Manet began to loosen his brush work and get more of Impressionist swiftness to his paint.  There is more spontaneity as time goes on and Manet adds many more light colors to his canvases.   

Manet sometimes lightened his colors, but he rarely lightened his palette while painting Berthe Morisot.  Does he see a sadness in her that does not brighten over time?  Or is there a darkness that he sees and knows?  Her hair was black and painting the contrast of exquisite blackness and lighter tones was his specialty.  He certainly painted her with greater verve and style than many other portraits, including those of his wife and of Eva Gonzalès, a 20-year old student who came to studied under Manet.  Berthe was envious of that relationship, although a portrait of Eva Gonzalès caused him much difficulty and was not successful.  

Manet, Berthe Morisot in Profile, 1872

To a certain extent, the portraits seems to grow in their sense of intimacy as time goes on, and Berthe seems increasingly relaxed with Manet.  Portait of Berthe Morisot in Profile, 1872,  shows Berthe in movement with spontaneous gestures.  Her expressive fingers and long hand add to a sense of elegance and she appears less serious than previous depictions.   Clearly Manet found a fascinating subject.

Professionally, each artist helped and encouraged the other.  On one occasion Manet complemented her on a painting and then started touching it up.  She did not object and sent it to the Salon, where it was accepted.   It was a painting of her mother and her pregnant sister,  now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Manet, Berthe Morisot Reclining, 1873

When Degas, Pissaro and Monet wished to break out of the Salon and start their own salon des indépendentes in 1873, Manet refused to join them and opted only for the traditional road to success.  This inner conservatism reflects a paradox in his character.  He also advised Berthe Morisot not to rock the boat, not join in their venture, which became the first Impressionist exhibition and almost an annual event.   Berthe, however, kept her own counsel and continued to exhibit with the Impressionists until 1886, when Impressionists were finally accepted and no longer needed an alternative venue.  Of the 8 Impressionist exhibitions, the only one she skipped was in 1879, after giving birth to her daughter in November of the previous year.

Manet, Berthe Morisot in Mourning Hat, 1874

We know  Berthe Morisot was a highly determined woman to follow her chosen path and not be deterred by the man of her dreams when she disagreed.  However, that doggedness often hid behind a shell of quietness and, at times, depression.  Edouard Manet’s paintings of her variously capture her allure, her elegance, her intelligence and a pensiveness tinged with tragedy.   He painted Berthe Morisot in a Mourning Hat in 1874, during the same year her father died.  The texture is rough, the eyes are enormous and the color contrast is bold.  Her color is pale and she appears emaciatedIt’s an expression of the sadness she was holding deeply within her at the time.   


Manet, Violets, 1872, was a gift to Berthe Morisot

Manet gifted an exquisite still life of violets in 1872 to Berthe.   He painted Violets with a swift, fresh and textural style, signed it and dedicated to her.  Note that it includes a fan, a symbol Berthe holds in several of his earlier paintings of her.   He only painted her in clothing, and she never painted him.

Berthe clearly gave Manet an outlet  and a means to express his feeling for her in painting.  In these portraits of her, we also see the workings of her psyche.  On the other hand, he seemed to appreciate Victorine Meurent (the other favorite model who posed in Olympia, The Luncheon on the Grass, The Railway and later became a Salon painter), for the versatile expressions she could give to a painting’s message. In other words, paintings of Morisot are all about Berthe Morisot. Victorine would have had greater freedom than Berthe in some respectsBerthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt were expected to behave according to their social standing.    (American Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas were important Impressionists who had a professional relationship and bond of friendship similar to the Morisot – Manet duo.  The time period was fascinating not only for how the artists related to each other, but to contemporary writers, poets, musicians and intellectuals.

Morisot, Eugène Manet on the Island of Wight, 1875

Berthe Morisot, Self-Portrait, 1884

Édouard Manet suggested to Berthe that she marry Eugène his brother, a situation that promised they could continue indefinitely to see each other, but in the company of others.  The mother’s criticisms of Édouard had been out protectiveness for the daughter, but her hesitation about Eugène was because he lacked a profession.   Eventually, at age 33, Berthe and Eugène married.  Four years later at age 37, she gave birth to her only child, Julie Manet.  Berthe Morisot did many portraits of her daughter and her husband which suggest affection and domestic happiness. 

 By all accounts, Eugène Manet was kind and extremely supportive of his wife’s career and provided much administrative support for the Impressionists in general.  His famous brother certainly overshadowed him in every way, but there is no evidence that he was jealous of his brother for any reason.  He must have realized Berthe’s extreme fondness and  probable preference for Édouard.  Once they were married, the older Manet seems to have stopped painting her.

 Compared to her brother-in-law Édouard’s work, Morisot’s own paintings have smaller and lighter brushstrokes, and a lighter palette.  Her  form is not deliberate as that of Manet.  In a self-portrait of 1884, we recognize the same chiseled features and delicacy that Manet portrayed, and self-confidence.  Their styles were already well developed when the met.  Differences in their styles reflect the differences between their teaching:  Morisot learned from Corot, the master of outdoor painting in diffused light of day, while Manet studied under Thomas Couture whose techniques are recognized in his  heavier brushwork.  Manet’s dark backgrounds reflect his admiration of Spanish painters Goya and Velazquez.  Her forms were more diffused, silvery and more true to the goals of Impressionism.

Manet, Self-Portrait with Palette, 1878, sold at a London auction for approximately $33 million 2010

Though he was criticized in his early career, by the time the Impressionists were accepted and recognized, Manet was esteemed as the leader of new way of seeing and painting in a modern technique.  Like his father, Manet received France’s highest honor, the prestigious Légion d’honneur before he died.  Advocating for this success and protecting the honor of his family was extremely important in the end, despite his progressive political and artistic ideas.  Both Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot died fairly young,  he of syphilis (like his father) in 1883, and she of pneumonia a little more than 12 years later.  

Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Berthe Morisot and Julie Manet, 1894

(When the diary of Julie Manet was compiled and published many years ago, I read the book, Growing Up with the Impressionists, in which Julie Manet expresses her thoughts and feelings about her family and the important artists who were their friends.  From what I remember, she seems to have had a fondness for everyone except Edouard Manet’s wife Suzanne, whom she found overbearing, perhaps reflecting her mother’s feelings.)  Berthe Morisot was devastated when Manet died, and again when her husband Eugène died in 1892.  Berthe and daughter Julie were extremely close. Berthe was nursing Julie who had pneumonia when she caught the bug and suddenly died in 1895. Her friends Renoir, Monet and Degas put together a large solo exhibition of her work shortly afterwards.

An orphan at age 16, Julie was left to the guardianship of painter Auguste Renoir and poet Stéphane Mallarmé.  A few years later Julie married a painter, Ernest Rouart.  She became an artist, as did cousins Jeannie and Paule Gobillard.  Julie Manet lived until 1966, nearly 88 years, in contrast to her mother, father and uncle.  

Renoir did several portraits of Julie Manet, including a painting of the Berthe Morisot with her daughter towards the end in 1894.   Morisot‘s hair appears to have changed from black to gray rather quickly after the loss of Manets, both of Édouard and then her own Eugène, who she had undoubtedly  loved dearly.  He was kind and generous to her.   When the older Manet died, his estate held a key indication of Berthe’s personal importance to him — seven of the paintings of her were found in his possession.  While Manet’s wife had the financial and social benefits of  marriage, he painted her less often.  

Manet, Young Woman with a Pink Shoe

In grad school, I took a seminar, Manet and Degas, and remember reading Manet and His Critics, as well as the novels of Émile Zola. Many books have come out since that time. Marni Kessler published an important article in The Art Bulletin about Manet’s paintings of Morisot, which I’ve not read. I’ve read The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe and quoted her above; The Judgment of Paris  by Ross King, and a biography, Rebel in a Frock Coat: Édouard Manet, by Beth Archer Brombert, each book very well documented.   Impressionist Quartet, by Jeffrey Meyers, a book I’ve not read, insists they were lovers.  Perhaps the most recent book to cover the Manet-Morisot relationship is Roberto Calasso’s book, La Folie Baudelaire, which has a chapter about the relationship as well as Manet’s connections to Degas. 

Brombert says of Manet, “He hungered for critical and popular success but refused to yield to the taste of the day; he was the leader of a new school who dissociated himself from it as soon as it gained cohesion; he was a man of public diversion and the most private of lives.”   

Morisot, Woman at Her Toilette, 1875-80

Manet’s greatness is in the paint and the experimental ways of presenting his subjects.  At a time when painting had to compete with photography, he asserted the importance of texture and presented the ambiguities of modern life.  I could not imagine Van Gogh without the influence of his rich, tactile paint and color juxtapositions as seen in the  sofa of The Repose , the green of The Balcony and the lush purple Violets.  Morisot’s style intersects with Manet’s at times, but in most ways she is closer to Pissarro, Renoir, Monet.  She and Manet inspired each others’ artistic evolution, as did Degas and Cassatt, who excelled in the artfulness of their compositions. 

Morisot’s Women at her Toilette, above, features a mirror and centers on a female figure, as in Manet ‘s very important painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, but her tones are always more silvery and form is less defined.  Morisot’s work is also a masterpiece, but the figure and mirror merge into the overall impression.  Manet’s woman at the Folies-Bergere is an icon who reminds us of what remains when participating in the excitement of the fleeting, contemporary world. Manet is best known for painting ambiguities, while the purest Impressionist compositions of  Morisot, Renoir and Monet keep the figure merely a part in the whole painted arrangement.  In her modern compositions, Morisot holds her place in the path to 20th century abstraction.  

Manet was the right person born at the right time to be pivotal in the changing world of art.  Morisot loved him but was independent, carving out her own reputation, in her time and in our time. (Here’s a blog with a wide variety of Morisot’s paintings.)  Having been soulmates unable to live together in love, Manet and Morisot respected each other until the end.    Our pictures of them together remain in our imagination.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016