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5.0 out of 5 stars The artist in context, 1 May 2014
This review is from: Berthe Morisot: The First Lady of Impressionism (Paperback)
Berthe Morisot was one of the original group of Impressionists that revolutionised Western art in France, yet until recently her reputation as an artist has been overshadowed by her colleagues and friends - Renior, Manet, Monet, Degas, de Chavannes, and so on. This excellent and well researched biography helps to bring her back into the limelight and explain why she is less well known. It's a cradle-to-grave biography that sets her in the artistic, political and social contexts of her time. It gives us a picture of what she painted when and why, who influenced her, and how her work was received by her contemporaries, the establishment and the critics.

She was fortunate in being born into a well-to-do family that supported her and her sister Edme's ambition to be artists at a time when it was rare for women to achieve eminence in the field. While she was copying paintings in the Louvre, she met many of the young and struggling future Impressionists there. Chief among these for her was Edouard Manet with whom she fell in love, a feeling that may well have been reciprocated; but he was not available, and the love remained unrequited, something she kept private. Instead, she married Manet's brother Eugene, and although she did not love him - he was something of a hypochondriac and neurotic - it was a marriage which suited them both. Importantly, Eugene actively supported her career as an artist (Edme gave up her art as soon as she became a mother). They had one daughter, Julie, whom they both adored. There was always money and fine houses and good living and long holidays, and a growing family of nieces and nephews to paint. Berthe held fashionable soiries, surrounding herself with friends from the world of literature - Mallarme was a particular friend - and from politics and the avante-garde arts.

It wasn't all plain sailing, of course. She did not communicate well with her father; her mother felt ambivalent about her career and swung moodily from one position to another; her brother was rather feckless, and she was envious of her sisters' marriages and children before she married aged about 30. It was a struggle, too, to break away from the conservative tendencies of the art schools of the time, to feel her way, with the help of her contemporary artists, towards a freer style of her own. Though never wavering in her allegiance to Impressionism - she participated in all of the eight exhibitions of their work and shared in the mocking criticism of them - she kept aloof from controversy. Being a woman in a man's world, she suffered from sexism, was often patronised as being 'charming' and 'feminine'; it took critics and buyers sometime to appreciate her art. It was a rich life, artistically fulfilled; but the author often hints of unresolved inner conflicts and a troubled spirit.

This is an absorbing, in formative, compelling biography, a much needed addition to the mountain of books about her male contemporaries.
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