BERTHE MORISOT by Anne Higonnet


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An appropriately graceful and measured biography of the extraordinary Impressionist who is known as much from her beautiful, sharply modern image in Edouard Manet's portraits as from her own art. Although sometimes working with ""scattered dues,"" Higonnet (Art/Wellesley) goes far in filling out the personality of this engaging but elusive 19th-century woman who ""negotiated a narrow but almost uncannily astute path between the demands of society and those of art."" Born in 1840 to an wealthy upper-class French family, and possessing a ""refined and reserved manner that hid an implacable will,"" Morisot used her social circumstances to turn painting from a pastime into a profession. She studied with Corot, took classes at the Louvre, met Manet and Degas. Impressionism forwarded Morisot's ambitions by offering an 'alternative to the traditional, male-dominated salon, and by embracing as serious art the subjects of everyday life that she and other women painted. At age 38, Morisot married Eugene Manet (Edouard's brother), who not only enriched her private life but actively supported and promoted her work. But Morisot's writings reveal moments of self-doubt (""I am working badly,"" she writes in 1875) promoted by what Higonnet calls ""relentless self-criticism"" and ""impossibly high standards."" Taking stock of recent scholarship, Higonnet shows how Morisot contributed her point of view to Impressionism by painting women as ""both observer and the observed."" As it suggests what informed the distinct modernity of Morisot's art and image, this well-documented, engaging account offers a startlingly rare story of a great woman artist who managed an exemplary, if privileged, life.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1990
ISBN: 0520201566
Publisher: Harper & Row