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Nine days of impressionism: May 1886, Berthe Morisot on a big foot

This article is taken from the Figaro Hors-série Paris 1874, Impressionisme, soleil levant, a special issue published one hundred and fifty years after the first impressionist exhibition commemorated by the Musée d'Orsay which brought together, in a striking face-to-face, a wide selection of works which were then revealed to the public.

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Nine days of impressionism: May 1886, Berthe Morisot on a big foot

This article is taken from the Figaro Hors-série Paris 1874, Impressionisme, soleil levant, a special issue published one hundred and fifty years after the first impressionist exhibition commemorated by the Musée d'Orsay which brought together, in a striking face-to-face, a wide selection of works which were then revealed to the public. To be kept up to date with historical and cultural news, subscribe free of charge to the Lettre du Figaro Histoire.

In the high, light living room which serves as her studio, rue de Villejust, near the Bois de Boulogne where she so loves to go and paint, standing still, Berthe looks at her canvas. As always, she doesn't really know what the work will be like once it's finished. She improvises, with this feeling of being "in a settled battle" with her, until the moment when the effect obtained pleases her, and responds to what she intuitively seeks, despite her doubts, perpetual goads. It's beautiful outside, and the sun forced by the cream-colored blinds draws a ballet of light shadows on the parquet floor. How she loves this place! They moved there shortly after the death of Edouard, this friend, almost a master, who had become his brother-in-law since his marriage to Eugène in December 1874. Edouard Manet died three years ago now, dying of syphilis after month of agony. She remembers with emotion that cold day in January 1882: Antonin Proust, Minister of Fine Arts, had made his friend Manet a Knight of the Legion of Honor, with the support of the President of the Council Gambetta. After so many years of seeking social recognition almost in vain, without ever having given in or denied his conception of art, this moment had been like revenge for him, which she had also enjoyed as hers. And then on May 3, 1883, at the Passy cemetery, the shared pain of his many friends. His posthumous triumph, finally, when the School of Fine Arts devoted a retrospective to him in January 1884. Zola signed the preface to the catalog, twenty years after the blue brochure which had established their friendship.

Also read: Michel De Jaeghere: “Impressionism, an aesthetic revolution in the shadow of the old masters”

Édouard Manet's opinion will have mattered to her. His praise of the view of the small port of Lorient that she had given him had given rise to the desire in her to never deny herself. She had applied to the Salon, often refused, like the others. So when Degas had informed his mother of the creation of the Société Anonyme Cooperative of painters, sculptors and engravers by inviting Berthe to join them, she did not hesitate, ignoring Puvis's reservations. That day, she renounced institutional artistic recognition and, since then, she has never exhibited at the Salon again. She participated in all of the group's exhibitions, except the one following Julie's birth.

This year, 1886, the exhibition almost did not take place. Caillebotte, who had nevertheless triumphed in that of 1882, refused to participate. Degas pouted. We no longer had the courage to get along and stand together. But Pissarro went out of his way to “heat everyone to death.” He came to plead his case with her, since she was the only one with the means to finance the project. Degas changed his mind, so she said yes. This year she is the arbiter of the discussions. It's not easy. Degas managed to dismiss all those of 1874, apart from her, Pissarro, Guillaumin and Rouart, but the conflicts persist. As Berthe wrote to her sister Edma: “There are shocks of self-esteem in this small group which make any understanding difficult. It seems to me that I am almost the only one without smallness of character, which is compensation for my inferiority as a painter. »

She judges herself harshly, but her companions have boundless admiration for her. Moreover, she played her role as master of ceremonies with great seriousness, is not part of any clan, only judging the painting in the most impartial way possible. With Eugène, her husband, she traveled to see for herself the work of new “divisionist” candidates, Signac and Seurat, before validating their participation. There were tensions at the time of installation: Seurat's painting A Sunday at La Grande Jatte definitely takes up a lot of space (two meters by three). Pissarro and Eugène held on strongly. But finally, the exhibition is open, and there were a lot of people at the inauguration. Lots of women especially, and pretty toilets. The criticisms were rare, the praises more numerous. Gauguin was pleased: “Our exhibition has brought the whole question of Impressionism back to the table and favorably. » Things started off well. But Berthe is not fooled by the outcome of the movement. The results of the exhibition will be bad overall. The day after its closure, Seurat wrote to Signac not without some bitterness: “The exhibitors on rue Laffitte left rather disbanded like real cowards. »

Paris 1874. Impressionism, rising sun, Le Figaro Special Edition. €14.90, available on newsstands and on Figaro Store.

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