Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872
22 x 18.1 in.
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a major French painter and a core member of the Impressionists, participating in their first exhibition in 1874. Born in Bourges, France, Morisot's mother was the great-niece of the great Rococo painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Her family was well off, her father being the prefect of the region, so Berthe and her two older sisters all received art education, as was the practice. They had a traditional education, receiving private lessons and then learning to copy the masters on display at the Louvre. While her sisters withdrew from painting to get married and start families, Berthe continued to pursue her art. She met the landscape painter Camille Corot while copying at the Louvre. At his encouragement she began painting outdoors (en plein air) in 1860, a core Impressionist technique that Morisot embraced several years before her colleagues in the group. Her earliest landscapes shown at the Salon where they were well received. As I mentioned yesterday, Morisot developed a close friendship with Manet after they met in 1868. They had a reciprocal professional relationship, frequently painting and encouraging each other. Morisot persuaded Manet to take up en plein air painting and introduced him to the other Impressionists. In 1874 she married Manet's brother, Eugene and had one daughter with him. Both her husband and daughter, Julie, were frequent subjects for the artist. Morisot's work often focused on domestic life, but she also continued to explore landscape and nudes. Like all Impressionists Morisot demonstrated in interest in the changing nature of modern life. She also painted fascinating explorations of space and color. Often considered her most famous work, The Cradle shows Morisot's older sister, Edma, watching her baby daughter Blanche sleep. It is the first image of motherhood in Morisot's oeuvre, which became a favorite subject later on. The painting shows extremely skillful composition, particularly in the diagonals formed by the curtain and canopy that are mirrored in Edma's arms. The most important part of the painting is Edma's face, which shows great love and determination as she gazes at her child. There is a distinct peacefulness in the scene, that contributes to its power and engaging effect. The bond between mother and child that Morisot conveys is palpable in this beautiful masterpiece.