/ TRAVELS IN MY MIND
Until recently, I knew almost nothing about Berthe Morisot. The name seemed vaguely familiar but who she was, what she did, and when was a mystery and there seemed no reason to solve it.
But then I saw this beautiful painting in ‘The New York Times’ and read the evocative companion piece by Jason Farago (paywall), the paper’s critic-at-large. Suddenly, Morisot, long dead and hardly a household name, came alive for me. Had Morisot not been female, she might have been at least as well-known as Monet. Or Renoir. Or Degas. Or perhaps she would’ve been the Impressionist’s Impressionist.
Anyway, it’s this painting that shows Morisot’s talent and unique perspective.
It’s called ‘In England (Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight)’. Eugene was Morisot’s new husband. The artist and her groom were honeymooning by the seaside, a new and relatively modish way to holiday in the late 19th century. Eugene, incidentally, was the dilettantish younger brother of Edouard Manet, the Modernist painter. Morisot often sat for Edouard — the families were friends — and she went on to follow her future brother-in-law in his attempt to paint modern life.
But, and that’s what we see in the painting above, the perspective is unique in its femaleness.
Jason Farago, the NYT critic, says it’s “a very curious, very uncommon picture. It captures a woman’s perception — but a perception of a man’s perception. It’s a work of double vision: a painting about looking, and about what it means to be looked at”.
In other paintings, she did still more to bring the female gaze into view. She painted sitting rooms, gardens, domestic scenes and images of motherhood, all of which were part of a woman’s world and easily accessible to them. She was consumed — the list of her works goes on and on, and it’s incomplete! And yet she’s not as well-known as lesser male talents. Two centuries on, perhaps that may start to be remedied.