Berthe Morisot was born in France on January 14, 1841 in a wealthy family. Her father was a government official who was a passionate painter who also supported art. Berthe brakes from the tradition and chooses to follow a career in art. She made painting her life's work. Once she made a decision to pursue art, her family did not stand on her way. When she was around twenty years old, Berthe Morisot met and befriended the famous painter Camille Carot. Camille Carot who was a good painter and handled color and brushwork confidently became her teacher. She was exceptionally good at painting, especially on figure and landscape painting. She is amongst the artists that influenced Berthe Morisot greatly.
She began by instructing her in painting and introducing her to other good artists and teachers. With Carot's guidance, she decided to take the plein air technique of painting. Carot taught her how to produce delicate landscape. Berthe Morisot was not only good at painting but also on printmaking. Later in 1868 Berthe Morisot met Eduardo Manet who was not only good at drawing but was also an excellent artist. She joined Manet and became her pupil. She began by modeling for her and working on plein air. Manet introduced her to the impressionist painters and she became one of the enthusiastic members of the group. She was the first woman to join the impressionist painters. She became an active member at the impressionist's shows, who was exhibiting and collecting their works. She began exhibiting at there shows in 1864 up to around 1873. Apart from exhibiting, she advocated strongly for the groups recognition.
Berthe Morisot experimented with various paintings ranging from landscape to seascape, but her favorite work was on domestic life. She developed a personal style in the eighties using pale colors to paint women and children. Examples of such works include the painting of the Cradle in 1873. She is one of the greatest artists that lived in the 19th century. Feminist historians claim that she has received more fame in recent years than she received while she was alive.
"The Mother and Sister of the Artist'' is the largest of Berthe Morisot paintings and measures (101 by 82 cm). It portrays a charming domestic scene with with furnishings gently overlapping. Loose brushstrokes on the wall create a homey feeling. The portrait shows Berthe Morisot's mother and sister sitting at home. Her sister has a glimmering hair and a pale complexion. Her old dress is out of fashion. The mother is putting on a black dress like a priest and face portrays strength and hardiness. Her face that portrays acceptance to what fate has thrown her way and a reluctance that shows those years of trying has not yielded much fruit. Sitting squat and directly before the table, she seems to be waiting for the unknown. She fixes her eyes on the book she is reading as if her very life emanates from it. If at all you were to trying to meet her eyes, you would fail. Her daughter is staring at her with worrying eyes. The emptiness that mother and daughter share is vivid.
Berthe brings out the hint of confinement in the painting. The two women are so close together suggesting lack of space. Berthe Morisot has also portrayed how things can look different through light that pass through the window. The mother's dress takes a large portion of the bottom corner of the boundary of the frame. The frame of a picture within the painting cuts from side to side of the sister's head in a violent way. The bodies of the two women overlap one another. One end of a coffee table can barely visible as it shows itself on the painting. Berthe Morisot was not a pushy artist with regard to her style though Eduardo Manet assisted her in this painting.
In her work as a painter, Berthe Morisot waged a war against limiting nature of society. Social expectations and limitations on women were extreme. Women, especially those in the field of art got little respect for their hard work. In the 19th century were viewed as domestic beings who should exercise their authority only at home. A woman was defined by her maternal capacity and for any woman to receive respect, she had to exhibit motherhood within a family set up. Educating a woman was emphasized only if it would make her a better wife and mother. It was stressed with a view of domesticating a woman and enabling her to find her place in the home.
These are the views that, Berthe Morisot rebelled against through her paintings. The rebellion is clear in most of her paintings. The place of a woman in the home is emphasized in the painting "The Mother and Sister of the Artist''. As a woman in the impressionist period, she composed most of her work highlighting on home and the surrounding areas. In this painting, a viewer will see two women trapped in a home setting. Two women are resting in the living room, most probably after completing their homemaking duties. One is left to wonder whether the women can engage in something more. In this perfect scene, the two women look conquered by life.
The painter is not only pointing out the confinement but also the universal limitation that women experience on daily basis. Viewers may as well wonder the secrets that these two women share beyond the emptiness. Regardless of the age whether young or old, women are confined at home. The painting also exhibits not only the physical proximity between the two women but also the psychological relationships they share. The painting portrays intimacy between the two women. Such a painting points the greater political movements that were to follow in the future.
Berthe Morisot makes a bold shift through her painting by depicting how ironical it is to confine a woman within the boundaries of nothing more than home making. This was rear especially coming from a female impressionist. While her male colleges painted cathedrals and compositions of grain stocks, Berthe Morisot produced a great deal of work that is considered rebellious. Her paintings not only targeted the mainstream women in society but to everyone within the society.
It is during this period that the cult of womanhood emerged. The cult advocated for greater space for women. It was interested in reaffirming and shaping the woman's place in the society. Since society had crushed the woman's spirit, Berthe Morisot attempts to open eyes of everyone within the society to the injustice they are committing against women.
Several people criticized the works of Berthe Morisot, these including criticism from fellow impressionist. The most severe ones claimed that her works highlighted only the desire to pass visual impressions using light falling on objects. At first, the term impressionist was used as a negative term. However, Berthe accepted this criticism even if it meant naming her as a mere impressionist. Berthe Morisot began making appearances at the Salon de Paris when she was only 23 years old. Her first presentations were two landscape paintings. She did not stop to exhibit until 1873, after the first impressionists began to exhibit there. With the impressionist at the salon, Berthe actually withdrew from the salon in1874. This was because most of them rejected her and criticized her paintings. The press viewed the impressionist's movement as radical, especially because of the inclusion of Berthe. They made her seem to be in the forefront of the movement.
Amongst the people who judged, Berthe Morisot harshly was her own mother. Although she did not remove her friendliness towards her daughter, she failed to understand Berthe's values. These doubts, coupled with the criticism from the others, she went even further and she was not much of a beauty. That her looks were fading. She believed that the work that Berthe was involved in was a logical distraction, a consolation, and not an occupation. She claimed that her daughter was unhappy and will eventually experience physical problems. She therefore constantly tried pushing her into marriage. She discouraged her saying that Berthe's artistical abilities were inadequate and that she could not paint a salable picture.
In the painting "The Mother and Sister of the Artist, one cannot fail to ask if Berthe used this work in defiance to they believe of her mother. It is true that her mother also belived that a woman's place is in the home and particularly in the kitchen. This is the reason why she discouraged her daughter to stop painting and to get married. She is the one that was claiming that painting make Berthe sad. Could this be the reason why Berthe is portraying both her mother and her sister who was already married as unhappy? Was this a way of illustrating that the institution of marriage does not as was being portrayed, a bed of roses. Since artists always presents their beliefs in there work, defiance to the institution of marriage could have been a reason for painting this picture. In marriage, the confinement is clearly brought out. The mother is searching for a way out of her confinement by reading literature. Her daughter who is in the same captivity is attentively eyeing the same source of escape. This is a clear indication that she is not satisfied with her station.
Over the years, women throughout the world have suffered great limitations subjected on them by men who consider themselves more superior. It took the courage, wisdom, talent and time of great women like Berthe Morisot to stand up and fight against all odds to point to the society that this is not right. Imagine that your jurisdiction of existence is limited only under a single roof. Imagine being judged or taken lightly simply because of being a female. How does it feel? That is the feeling that society has subjected our mothers, sister, and aunts to for a very long time. With the works of artists and other intellectuals, society is increasingly realizing that women can function in other fields other than home keeping.
Women can become CEO of companies; they can study and become engineers, pilots, doctors and excel equally as me. These are the dreams that Berthe Morisot saw and depicted in her various pictures. Against all odds, she prevailed against the criticism from family members, friends and the society. Berthe Morisot became one of the few successful female painters of the 19th century. Her struggles as female artists in that time will motivate other female artist, not only in this generation but also in the future. Her accomplishments will continually point the women of today to greater heights of dreams. Her paintings will not only inspire women, but everyone who observes them.