Born in 1841, Morisot decided early on that she wanted to be an artist. At 16, she and her sisters started drawing lessons, though Morisot found their teacher to be dull and insisted on changing tutors. For a period, the sisters studied with Joseph Guichard, who then recommended them to Camille Corot. Two years later, aged 23, Morisot exhibited her first paintings at the 1864 Salon.
After moving to Paris, Morisot became a foundational member of the Impressionist group, and like her colleagues she too painted en plein air, creating such works as Jour d’été and Le jardin à Bougival. She was close friends with Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Through Henri Fantin-Latour, she was introduced to Édouard Manet, with whom she would go on to develop a particularly close relationship. Manet often painted Morisot, examples of which include Berthe Morisot au bouquet de violettes and Le Repos, and Morisot went on to marry his brother, Eugène.
Morisot often depicted quiet, domestic scenes, such as those seen in Femme à sa toilette and Le Berceau, and frequently used her sister Edma and daughter Julie as models. In her paintings, women were far from passive objects but rather mysterious figures with rich and complex interior lives. This sensibility matched the artist’s own. Rejecting the social conventions of the era, Morisot did not use a male pseudonym and instead exhibited under her own name, and her husband abandoned his artistic career in support of hers. She was formidable and had, in her own words, ambition that was ‘excessive’. Of the six Impressionist artists who in equal parts shocked and fascinated Parisian society in 1874, Morisot was the sole woman.
Even as her subjects were wholly modern, Morisot cast her eye backwards in time, finding inspiration in the canvases of Peter Paul Rubens, Joshua Reynolds and François Boucher, a sense evident in the luminosity of her colour palette. Over the course of her career — which was cut short by her death in 1895 at 54 from pneumonia — Morisot’s brushwork became looser, more experimental, and her compositions gained an emotional depth. She was a determining force behind Impressionism, perhaps the force. As Morisot’s contemporary, the critic Paul Mantz, wrote in Le Temps in 1877. ‘There is only one true Impressionist in the whole revolutionary group: and that is Mlle Berthe Morisot.’
Jeune fille mangeant un fruit sous un arbre (recto); Études pour jeune fille (verso)