Printer Friendly Version

The Lasting Impression of French Impressionism

The Modern and the Everyday
Berthe Morisot<br/> French, 1841–95<br/> <em>The Artist's Daughter, Julie, with her Nanny</em>, c. 1884<br/> Oil on canvas<br/> The John R. Van Derlip Fund
  Berthe Morisot
French, 1841–95
The Artist's Daughter, Julie, with her Nanny, c. 1884
Oil on canvas
The John R. Van Derlip Fund


Rather than paint scenes from mythology, history, or the Bible, the Impressionists chose to depict modern subjects they could observe firsthand. They felt art was subjective, and each artwork reflected the artist's unique perception of the world. Pissarro painted a modern Paris. Monet painted grainstacks. Berthe Morisot painted a family album of daily life.

Because she was a woman, Morisot was barred from enrolling in state-sponsored art schools. She was privately tutored by male painters, including Eduoard Manet, who would become her brother-in-law. Despite being a founding member of the Impressionist group in 1874, she was prevented from painting scenes such as café life, then considered inappropriate for a woman. Instead, she painted many autobiographical scenes of her home life, featuring family members and friends. As the poet Paul Valéry wrote, Morisot was "living her painting and painting her life." (Anne Higonnet, Berthe Morisot's Images of Women. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1992, p. 227).

In this painting—one of more than 125 portraits of her daughter over a period of 16 years—Morisot captured a tranquil domestic scene. Instead of a traditional mother-and-child composition, Morisot the mother positioned herself outside the painting, as an observer of her daughter, who in turn observes her nanny, Pasie, sewing. Rather than showing the intimate physical connection between mother and child, Morisot reveals a psychological connection, and focuses on the child's independent life. Julie's father and Morisot's husband, Eugène Manet, is depicted in the background.

Morisot and her daughter often created art side-by-side, Morisot with her paints, and Julie with her colored pencils, and perhaps they inspired each other. Morisot was more controversial than the male French Impressionists because her energetic and painterly brushwork was even more sketchy than theirs, anticipating the totally free abstraction of mid 20th-century painting.

spacer related images 1.  + 2.  + 3.  + bracket spacer
1. Renoir captured a quiet, everyday moment when a young girl interrupts her meal while an older girl secures the child's hat pin.
Pierre Auguste Renoir, French, 1841–1919. The Hat Pin, 1898. Color lithograph. Gift of Grace Bliss Dayton.
2. Edgar Degas has captured his friend's child in a candid moment, eating an apple. In keeping with the idea of the everyday, Degas painted this picture on a piece of mattress ticking, because no canvas was available!
Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917. Portrait of Mlle. Hortense Valpinçon, 1871. Oil on mattress ticking. The John R. Van Derlip Fund.
3. Pissarro was interested in showing the daily lives of peasants, as can be seen in this drawing, The Beet Harvest. Notice the strong diagonal line created by the furrows, reminiscent of Place du Théâtre Français, Paris: Rain.
Camille Pissarro, French, 1830–1903. The Beet Harvest, 1881. Gouache over graphite. Bequest of Mary Young Janes.