“10 Things to Know…” is a new series dedicated to righting HIS-tory by shining a floodlight on extremely talented, yet underrepresented, women in art.
Some early accounts of art history leave out glaring details, like the fact that French painter Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was the only woman to show in the first French Impressionist exhibition. Or that, at one point, she was more successful than Monet and Renoir.
Yet, if you ask strangers on the street to name three painters from that popular genre, chances are good that you wouldn’t even get a Mary Cassatt—her future female Impressionist peer.
Let’s correct a bit of HIS-tory. Meet Berthe Morisot, now rightly known as “the first lady of Impressionism.” Here are ten things you need to know (and share) about this talented woman.
- She was a natural. Morisot’s parents recognized and encouraged her early talent, even though women were not permitted to join official arts institutions at the time.
- She had artistic blood in her veins. On her mom’s side, Morisot was related to the prolific Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard—an early rule-breaker and controversial figure.
- She defied convention. In 1864, at the age of 23, Morisot was permitted to exhibit paintings at the famous Salon de Paris. She would go on to regularly show her work there for the next ten years.
- She influenced fellow masters. In 1868, Morisot befriended Edouard Manet, who was also on the rise. The two continued to impact each other’s work throughout their lives.
- She had the full support of her husband. In 1874, Morisot married Eugene Manet (Edouard’s brother), a painter in his own right. Recognizing her talent, he put his career on hold to manage hers—something that was quite simply unheard of.
- She was loyal and principled. When the Salon rejected her Impressionist peers, Morisot vowed to never show there again. Instead, in 1874, she exhibited at the first independent show of Impressionist paintings, which included works by Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Monet, and Sisley.
- She made history, time and again. Berthe’s male counterparts in the Impressionist group treated her as an equal. As a result, she was the first woman to be a founding member of a major art movement.
- Her genius was constrained by propriety. Though Morisot was a force to be reckoned with in the “boys club” art world of the time, she was limited by laws of propriety, which deemed it improper for women to paint men, nudes and street scenes. As a result, she was limited to painting nature and domestic subjects.
- She was often above reproach. While art critics labeled the Impressionists a group of radical “lunatics,” Morisot tended to be more favorably reviewed. One such critic stated, “The truth is there is only one Impressionist in the group and it is Berthe Morisot. She has already been acclaimed and should continue to be so.”
- She secured a solo exhibition. In 1892, Berthe Morisot landed her first solo-exhibition, showcasing 43 works in Paris. This would serve as the culmination of her life’s work. She died of pneumonia just two years later.
Berthe left an indelible mark on the art world. Yet in the annals of art history, she got lost in the shadow of behemoths like Monet, Renoir, and Degas. We’re happy to help set the record straight and give her the praise and place in history that she deserves. And, we’re not alone. In 2013, Berthe’s After Lunch (1881) sold for $10.9 million at auction, making her the highest paid female painter in history.
My, how times change.