Transcript for Episode 414: Berthe Morisot an Artist who Defied Conventions

Categories: Arts & Architecture, French History

Discussed in this Episode

  • Orsay Museum
  • Marmottan Museum
  • Fondation Bemberg
  • Met in New York
  • Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia
  • Mineapolis Art Museum
  • Boston Art Museum

[00:00:00] Intro

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 414 (quatre cent quatorze).

[00:00:23] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy and news related to travel to France.

[00:00:38] Today on the podcast

[00:00:38] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the amazing artist Berthe Morisot.

[00:00:46] She was The Impressionist Woman Who Defied Conventions. I’m sure you know about Van Gogh, you know about Monet, but do you know about Berthe Morisot? Ah, we always learn about the guys and the ladies are, well… perhaps we don’t have the time.

[00:01:03] Annie Sargent: I hope you take the time today to listen to this episode and learn about this wonderful artist. And once you’ve learned about her, I bet you’ll notice her work in many major museums in the world.

[00:01:16] Annie Sargent: I am back for my vacation in Tennessee and I’ll tell you about that after my conversation with Elyse.

[00:01:23] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. And you can browse all of that at my boutique

[00:01:41] Bootcamp update

[00:01:41] Annie Sargent: This week, I sent an email to all bootcamp participants. If you did not get it, search for the subject line: Let’s touch base about the France Bootcamp. I’m not going to go into details about that here because it’s only relevant to the lucky 40 people who responded fast enough. But I wanted to mention it so you don’t miss the email. The bootcamp is sold out, by the way, if you’re just catching up.

[00:02:06] The Events list

[00:02:06] Annie Sargent: I am also working on something very new and very exciting. It is an events list. Uh, I mean, who needs that, right? Well, I think I mentioned it before I went on my vacation. But let me tell you a little bit more about it now.

[00:02:21] Annie Sargent: This will be a page on, where you’ll be able to search for things like festivals, fairs, festivities, things that tend to recur every year. And I can’t possibly list all the festivals that take place in France going forward, because that would be a full-time job for a whole team of people. But, for the festivals that have been going on for some time, I can list those, at least the ones that took place in the recent past, because they are a great indication of what is to come.

[00:02:55] Annie Sargent: We’re creatures of habit in France. Chances are if a town had a medieval festival the second weekend of May in 2022, they will probably continue to have a medieval festival the second weekend of May in 2023, 2024, et cetera.

[00:03:12] Annie Sargent: The pandemic disrupted a lot of these events, but they are back with a vengeance. I have already found many of these events myself, but I also call on you, listeners to help me establish a bigger list.

[00:03:27] When I record trip reports, many of you tell me that you were pleasantly surprised to run into a fete or some other fun event, by chance. Facebook group visitors also report such happy coincidences. Let’s list them somewhere central and searchable.

[00:03:45] Annie Sargent: I’ll verify some of these events myself and you’ll be able to tell whether it’s verified or not, but for the most part, it will be up to you to verify that a similar activity is going to happen and what the exact dates are, because the calendar, you know, pesky thing, it changes all the time.

[00:04:03] Annie Sargent: The need to verify is going to be even greater in 2024, and I know that because Paris will host the Summer Olympics and the city is going to need a lot of police from all over the country. And cities are being asked today to shift the dates of their summer events for 2024 because their local police are probably going to be working crowds in Paris, and so they’re being asked to change the date. So 2024 is probably going to be somewhat different.

[00:04:35] Annie Sargent: But if you know the name of the event, the place, you can figure out the dates, right? You’ll have to take it from there, but I think it’ll be really, really helpful for people who enjoy events and fun festivities.

[00:04:49] Annie Sargent: When is this going to be ready? Well, I hope to launch the beta version within a month, but it’s the sort of database that only gets better as it ages, just like good wines and good people like you and like me. It’ll be free for anyone to query, and of course I will mention it on the podcast when the beta is ready.

[00:05:21] About Berthe Morisot with Elyse Rivin

[00:05:21] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:05:22] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:05:23] Annie Sargent: We have a fun topic of conversation. I know I’m going to learn a lot of stuff because I know nothing about this. It’s Berthe Morisot, the impressionist. The title you gave to this is, The Impressionist Artist who Defied the Conventions.

[00:05:38] Annie Sargent: I want to know.

[00:05:40] Who was Berthe Morisot?

[00:05:40] Elyse Rivin: Yes. Well, of course the defying is what makes it the most interesting, actually, on some level. Berthe Morisot, as you corrected me the other day to make the pronunciation correct, Berthe Morisot was one of the group of impressionist artists. Some people know who she was or is, and some people may not have heard of her because she is not as famous worldwide as Monet, Renoir, and perhaps a couple of the others. She was a member of the group from the beginning and she was thestudent of, and assistant to Edouard Manet, who is actually considered by many people to be a precursor to the impressionists. I don’t want to go into too much technical detail about it. I know that a lot of people, especially if they visit Orsay Museum where there’s a magnificent, very, very large wing of art by all the impressionist artists, and of course, it’s probably the most important and famous part of the museum for most people.

[00:06:43] The impressionists

[00:06:43] Elyse Rivin: There’s a group of artists that are kind of grouped together, clumped together, some of whom were not exactly impressionist, but who were either friends with, came before or came slightly after.

[00:06:56] Elyse Rivin: But in this large group of people that were labeled impressionists, there were only two women in the entire collection, one of whom was an American named Mary Cassatt who actually was from Philadelphia, who went to Paris and participated in this group. But she was basically considered an outsider because she was American.

[00:07:17] Even though her painting is very similar in a lot of ways to the style, the group which was of course largely masculine, did not really pay much attention to her, ironically. But there was this other person, and that was this young woman named Berthe, who was part of the group and who insisted on being part of the group and who had to really fight her way and forge her way into this world and be accepted, and she had a rather incredible life and destiny.

[00:07:47] Annie Sargent: Wow. That sounds like a really interesting person. You said her dates right?

[00:07:52] Manet and Monet

[00:07:52] Elyse Rivin: She was born in 1841 and she was the same age as Monet. She wasnine years younger than Manet. And I know that some people, if you’re really not up to a lot of the stuff in art history, it’s sometimes confusing because one is Manet with an A and one is Monet with an O.

[00:08:09] Manet was someone whose painting was not necessarily out-of-doorscenes. He did more portraits and indoor studio painting and used a lot of black. But his style of confrontation and his idea about painting was very, very modern. And so he was friends with, and influenced, a lot of the other people who came a little bit later.

[00:08:32] Elyse Rivin: And part of the story of the life as an artist of Berthe, if I can call her that, was herencounter with and relationship with Manet.

[00:08:41] Berthe’s family

[00:08:41] Elyse Rivin: But to begin with, she was really lucky on some level because she was born into a very, very prestigious upper class family. Her father was a Prefet and it’s very complicated and it’s extremely difficult for me to explain to anybody what that is, but it’s someone who’s very, very high up in the administration, who is kind of head policeman, but also head of administration for a region.

[00:09:05] Would you say that was a fairly accurate short description?

[00:09:10] Annie Sargent: So the Prefet is the person who represents the President in the region. So the President can delegate any number of tasks to the Prefet, to be performed in the region. And it includes police, it includes anything having to do with civil safety, you know, like during the pandemic, the Prefet had a lot of say in how restrictions were implemented, how difficult they wanted to be. You know, we all had rules in France, but some areas enforce those rules a lot more.

[00:09:48] Annie Sargent: It’s that sort of thing. And they also have big budgets that they can use to fund local police, local services of all sorts.

[00:09:57] Elyse Rivin: Okay. She was the third child, and third daughter actually, they had a brother who was the youngest in the family where her father was in fact this Prefet, who had actually studied, believe it or not, to be an architect.

[00:10:10] Elyse Rivin: And so he had an inclination towards the arts, but he was from a very prestigious upper class family. They weren’t nobles or anything like that. And her mother was also from a very prestigious upper class family. They had a certain amount of wealth and they certainly had a certain amount of prestige. He moved around because of his functions and then when she was eight, they moved back to Paris, they moved to Passy, which is actually a very nice section of the 16th Arrondissement. It’s actually kind of like little village, it’s very beautiful. And that is pretty much where she spent her years growing up and she spent the rest of her life living in and around Passy in Paris.

[00:10:46] Annie Sargent: Quite posh.

[00:10:47] Elyse Rivin: Quite posh, quite, quite posh. And being from this upper class family, she and her sisters were given the kind of education that young women were supposed to have, which was to be a little bit familiar with the arts, with music, with painting.

[00:11:01] Elyse Rivin: But her mother, interestingly, if it turned out to have been somewhat frustrated in not having pursued an artistic life of her own, and so, surprisingly, for a family of that statute and that class, her parents were very, very open-minded and liberal.

[00:11:21] Annie Sargent: So that was the biggest difference between her and her peers.

[00:11:26] Art lessons

[00:11:26] Elyse Rivin: So there were two things that happened. She had a sister who was just a couple of years older than her named Edme, which is to me of such an odd but old fashioned name.

[00:11:35] I don’t think I’ve ever met an Edme. No.

[00:11:38] Elyse Rivin: And they were very close and the two of them both were very interested in art.

[00:11:43] So their mother, who had first had hired a tutor for them, decided that it was perfectly okay for them to, not just have a tutor come to their house, but, oh my God, scandalous thing, they could go to the tutor who was an artist. They could go to the artist’s studio to take lessons.

[00:12:02] Elyse Rivin: And at first, the mom accompanied them and then she had enough confidence in them to let them go on their own, which was unheard of at the time, unchaperoned, oh my goodness, you know. The first tutor they had was someone who had a very old fashioned kind of conservative approach to art, and the girls, both of them kind of told their mom, eh, you know, we need to find somebody else. They really were interested in the new ideas about art.

[00:12:30] Elyse Rivin: So it, it was really a very interesting family.

[00:12:33] Elyse Rivin: And so I don’t know who actually found the second tutor, but the second tutor turned out to be someone who had studied with Delacroix, who was of course, a great artist who was at the time considered to be one of the great innovators at the of the 19th century, and Ingres, who were both people who did more or less conservative classical type of art, but whose ideas about art weren’t modern enough for the two of them.

[00:12:56] Elyse Rivin: And they proceeded to show that they had talent. So much so, that this tutor, the second tutor, I don’t remember his name and I don’t think it’s really that important, but he came back to the home of the Morisot family one day, or he wrote this in a letter. To be honest, I don’t really know which one, but I just find it really incredible, having read the translation.

[00:13:18] Elyse Rivin: And basically, he sent a note to their mom, because I think that dad was perfectly tolerant of all of this, but was so busy that he had nothing much to say about what was going on with them.

[00:13:29] Elyse Rivin: And this tutor, the second tutor, he said to their mom, that she should watch out because they were both very talented and that they were serious enough about the artwork that they might wind up having, God forbid, the desire to be professional artists. And this was just not done, especially in the circles that they traveled in.

[00:13:53] Elyse Rivin: And he said to her, you will regret it if you continue to let them take art classes. And guess what? She continued to let them take art classes, and she even enrolled them in a school that was apparently a school that had an excellent reputation, which was another thing that was unheard of, because it meant they could, they had a lot of exposure to the outside world. They could go out into the world and meet people, they weren’t these lovely little things waiting to find a husband at home.

[00:14:21] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it was a very different life, wasn’t it back then?

[00:14:24] It was a very different life, and especially for an upper class family, this was, they were supposed to protect these young ladies so that they were pure and innocent and all of that kind of stuff, you know?

[00:14:35] Elyse Rivin: And apparently, that did not suit the personality of either of them. But most particularly, it did not suit the personality of Berthe, who decided when she was in her late teens, that she was indeed going to be a professional artist. And this was the beginning of the fight that she had to fight for the rest of her life, basically, you know?

[00:14:57] Berthe’s sister Edme

[00:14:57] Elyse Rivin: Wow. So, destiny calls to a young lady like this. This is still the two of them, the sisters Edme and Berthe going off to do all of this art together. Apparently, both of them were considered at first to be equally talented, which is very interesting because what eventually happened was that Edme, for reasons I do not know, basically gave up and let herself get married.

[00:15:19] Elyse Rivin: I say that in that way, Yeah, she gave up. Because I’ve read a lot about Berthe, I’ve done a lot of research about her, and apparently, they stayed very close. Her sister moved to, I believe it was Le Havre with her husband who was a naval officer, and regretted very soon afterwards that she had allowed herself to be talked into getting married.

[00:15:40] Elyse Rivin: Spent the rest of her life with several children and her husband and regretted enormously that she didn’t have whatever that courage was to just say, No, I really want to stay doing my art. She never, once she got married, she never painted again for the rest of her life. But Berthe, she did.

[00:15:57] Copying art in the Louvre

[00:15:57] Elyse Rivin: And so what happened was, before her sister got married, the parents allowed them to go and copy the Masters’ work in the Louvre. And one of the reasons they were allowed to do this is because very simply, women were not allowed to go to art school. It was only for men.

[00:16:15] Annie Sargent: That’s just crazy.

[00:16:16] Elyse Rivin: Women were not allowed to do a lot of things.

[00:16:19] Elyse Rivin: And they were not considered to be apt at becoming real artists, whatever that is supposed to mean. As an alternative, this tutor who apparently must have been a very good tutor, really, he suggested to the family that they be allowed to go to the Louvre, there were certain days of the week when young people copied and you can still see copiers. You can go to the Louvre, you could still see them in the painting wing. And in the process of going there and sitting and copying the masters, they met two young men who were doing the same thing. And one of them was a painter named Fantin-Latour whose work you can actually see in Orsay, but he’s not as well known as some of the others.

[00:17:04] Who was Eduoard Manet?

[00:17:04] Elyse Rivin: And the other young man who was a friend of his, was Eduoard Manet.

[00:17:08] Annie Sargent: Aha.

[00:17:10] Elyse Rivin: And Manet, interestingly enough, came from exactly the same kind of family. His family was upper-middle class and his father had a very prestigious job, they had a lot of money. And in fact, his father who was in, I think he was a judge, had wanted Eduoard, who was one of three sons, to follow in his footsteps and he had the same kind of personality as Berthe, except as a guy, he could get away with it a little bit more. And his response to his father, as the oldest of the three sons was, I do not want to be a judge. I do not want to study law. I want to be an artist.

[00:17:49] A friendship with Manet

[00:17:49] Elyse Rivin: And what happened was that Berthe and Eduoard soon became very close friends.

[00:17:56] Elyse Rivin: And really, everything I’ve read insists because it’s easy, even me, to go into kind of romantic fantasy about what was the relationship between the two of them. And everybody has speculated for all these almost 200 years about it. But it apparently really was a relationship of friendship. And he was nine years older than her.

[00:18:17] Annie Sargent: Which is not that much, I mean…

[00:18:18] Elyse Rivin: Which is not that much. But basically, it was like he took her under his wing.

[00:18:22] Elyse Rivin: But apparently, what happened was, he saw very quickly how talented she was. And he wrote and said one of the things he liked about her was that unlike the other young women that he knew, she was not as pliant, and she was not as easy to get along with.

[00:18:41] Elyse Rivin: She was determined, that she had this kind of hard edge to her personality because she had to defend herself against all of these prejudices about a woman being an artist. She was very beautiful. She was thin, which apparently was absolutely not the fashion to be at the time, because I’ve actually seen photographs of Eduoard Manet and his wife, and his wife was a woman who was a piano teacher who was a couple of years older than him, and she was a nice round woman, you know, she had all the curves that you see in paintings by somebody like Renoir. And Berthe Morisot was absolutely not at all. She would’ve been a perfect person to be a model today if she was alive right now.

[00:19:22] Annie Sargent: A stick.

[00:19:23] Elyse Rivin: Yes. Nah, I don’t know if she was a stick, but she was thin and then thin was definitely not exactly what was considered to be fashionable.

[00:19:30] Elyse Rivin: But what happened was, Édouard Manet developed such a confidence in her ability that he had her come to his studio. And they talked together about the work he was working on, and there were times when she actually collaborated with him. Now, this is when he’s beginning to be well known, so his work is starting to sell. Which was obviously, a little bit before her work started to sell, but there was a real reciprocity between the two of them.

[00:19:58] Elyse Rivin: And what is even more interesting is that because his family was of the same social class as her family, the two families became very good friends and started to socialize. So for the next number of years, not only did she work as a painter with Eduoard Manet, but she knew and hung out with his family, including his two brothers.

[00:20:22] Annie Sargent: So, did they like share a workspace?

[00:20:26] Elyse Rivin: No, they didn’t share a workspace. Her father, Berthe’s father built her a workspace in the back garden of their house in Passy.

[00:20:36] Annie Sargent: So that suggests that he wasn’t that against it.

[00:20:39] Too bad she’s not a man

[00:20:39] Elyse Rivin: No, her father was not, her parents were really open minded and liberal, but, there’s always a but. Her mom, once her sister Edme had finally gotten married, I think what must have happened was that Berthe’s mother started thinking about what was going to happen to her daughter if she did not get married, and that it was going to be impossible for her. Because the fact is that the circles of artists were very hostile to having a woman enter them.

[00:21:08] Elyse Rivin: I mean, it really was. Fantin-Latour who introduced her to Manet, actually is quoted later on as saying “she’s really good, too bad she’s not a man”.

[00:21:19] Annie Sargent: Wow.

[00:21:20] Elyse Rivin: I mean, this is how prejudiced they were about the idea of a woman. And they also, most of them, not all of them, clearly Manet was not one of them, and Monet was not either.

[00:21:30] Elyse Rivin: But a lot of these artists really did not believe a woman had the potential for the same talent as an artist, as a man did. So, if you have somebody like Fantin-Latour who says, it’s too bad she’s not a man, and if she married a man, she could teach him how to paint. I would’ve slapped him in the face, you know?

[00:21:51] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:21:52] Elyse Rivin: I mean, butthis was really the general attitude that they had towards women trying to be equal to them. I’m sure it was true in other circles as well, but in the artistic circles it was really, really, really hard.

[00:22:06] Why were there so few women artists?

[00:22:06] Annie Sargent: It’s really important for people to understand that today when we say, Well, isn’t that funny that there were so few women artists? Isn’t that funny that there were so few women who did this exceptional and that exceptional thing? Well, it has to do with the fact that they weren’t allowed.

[00:22:24] Annie Sargent: They just weren’t allowed to study it or do it or practice it. They were kept under the thumb, and that explains why today, we have to make great efforts to find the ones who defied the odds and did it anyway. And we shouldn’t be so surprised that there are so few of them. It’s just so many of them gave up young, well, and Berthe’s sister did.

[00:22:49] Berthe Morisot, a minor impressionist artist?

[00:22:49] Right. I mean, you’re absolutely right. And in fact, what happened was, Berthe started showing her work in the same exhibits as these other young artists who became the impressionist group.

[00:23:00] Elyse Rivin: So, by the time she was in her early twenties, her work was actually accepted into these exhibits. But every time the art critics came to write about them, and they did come all the time because these were the new young artists that everyone was looking to criticize because their work was a little bit different from the work that had been done before.

[00:23:19] Elyse Rivin: But on top of criticizing the others, it was terrible because the critiques very often would say, Oh, and then there’s Berthe Morisot, a minor impressionist artist. And the only reason they said that was because it was a woman and for no other reason. Because if you know her work, and if you look at her work, what you can see is that in terms of technique, she was exactly doing the same kind of work as the other impressionists when they first began. And to be quite honest, you know, if you go to Orsay, which of course is a place I’ve been to many, many, many times, and you go into the wing of impressionists, there were two or three artists whose work looked so similar, that is almost impossible to tell who is who, unless you know the work. But that is not the case with Morisot, like it is not the case with Monet. They had a distinctive touch and a distinctive style, and she had that from the very beginning.

[00:24:15] Berthe Morisot starts selling her work

[00:24:15] Elyse Rivin: So this is what happened. So all through the 1860s, she started producing work.

[00:24:21] Elyse Rivin: She actually started selling work, which is really interesting too. Unlike we’ve talked about Rosa Bonheur, she did not make a great fortune, she did not become famous, because a lot of her work was immediately sold to private families and collectors, and so none of it, none of it, zero in her entire lifetime, was in a museum.

[00:24:41] Elyse Rivin: Because the museums did not consider her work to be important enough compared to Manet, Renoir, Monet etcetera, etcetera.

[00:24:49] Why didn’t fellow Impressionists stick up for Berthe Morisot?

[00:24:49] Annie Sargent: Do you think, it would’ve made a difference if these guys, Monet, Manet, Renoir, if they had said, wait, why don’t you exhibit her?

[00:24:59] Elyse Rivin: You know, I don’t know. Because the only one who did defend her was Manet, and Degas a little bit, strangely enough, who happened to have been someone who was absolutely a misogynist from the get go, but for some reason, he actually became friends with Berthe and defended some of her work. But I don’t know, I don’t know exactly, she became friends towards the end of her life and became much closer to Monet.

[00:25:25] Elyse Rivin: I know she was friends with Renoir, but I do not know what their attitude was towards her and her work. Except for Manet, and he was the only one who insisted that she was as good and talented as the others were. It’s a good question. I really, really don’t know. I think, from what I know of the history of this group, they were friends, but they were also all rivals.

[00:25:52] Elyse Rivin: And except for Renoir, who had success almost immediately and who bathed in the glory of his work for pretty much his entire life, a lot of them struggled at first to be recognized as important artists. And my guess is that even if they were well wishing, they were more concerned with their own livelihoods and their own work than they were with helping to defend her.

[00:26:17] Elyse Rivin: What happened was, it wasn’t really until the end of her life, because she did not live to be very old, it wasn’t until the last few years of her life that her work started to be defended in the way you’re talking about. But it’s a really good question. I just, I just don’t know.

[00:26:33] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I think it’s important for, you know, even today, there’s, there are professions where very few women are there. And if you’re listening to us and you happen to be in one of those professions, please pay attention to the achievements of the women around you and point them out instead of just keeping ’em under, you know, under the thumb.

[00:26:55] Annie Sargent: That would be nice. Thank you.

[00:26:56] Elyse Rivin: So this is what happened to Berthe.

[00:26:58] Marriage to Eugene Manet and making a pact to let her work

[00:26:58] Elyse Rivin: Now, there’s speculation about this, but we can speculate and speculate, we will never exactly know. Remember what I said? She hung out a lot with the Manet family and she was friends with everyone. Well, it turns out thatÉdouard Manet’s brother, younger by one year, his brother Eugene, apparently was in love with her and had been in love with her for a very long time. She was apparently, she apparently had a very prickly personality and was very, very defensive about her independence and all of this. He had gone off to be a naval officer. He was a kind of a Sunday Painter, but never took his painting very seriously.

[00:27:35] Elyse Rivin: His family was, of course, surrounded by art and painting all the time, and he was independently wealthy and he finally, apparently asked her to marry him and she did.

[00:27:47] Elyse Rivin: Now, did she really love him? Who knows? It’s absolutely impossible. Apparently, he was a really nice looking, easy going guy and he apparently told her that it would be okay with him, for her to stay being a professional painter. Because she had said, I will never marryever, ever, because, in the world I live in, once you get married, you’re supposed to stop being an artist and I will never stop being an artist. Well, that was the pact they made. He said, I have money, I don’t have to do anything else.

[00:28:18] Elyse Rivin: And it turns out that for the entire rest of the time they were both alive, from the 1874, which is when they got married, she was 33 already, he was 41. From when they got married until they both died, which was not very far one from the other, he spent his life and his money and his energy helping promote her artwork.

[00:28:39] Annie Sargent: Wow, that’s impressive.

[00:28:40] Elyse Rivin: She had one child, she had a daughter named Julie four years later, in 1878. And this is what I find fascinating about her. Berthe Morisot was very interested in modern art. She was interested in new ideas about art. She was interested in experimenting with paint, with pastel, with dissolving the image, which is of course what eventually happened with Monet and all these people as we get to the very end of the 19th century.

[00:29:07] Choosing to make respectable and well accepted pieces

[00:29:07] Elyse Rivin: But she made a decision, and I don’t know if it was a decision that was political or really just a personal inclination. She chose to not try to do subject matter that was shocking for a woman to do. So, my personal feeling is that she decided that it was enough that she could be recognized as a professional artist and that she would experiment with technique, but she wasn’t going to push it so far that she would be totally rejected.

[00:29:37] Elyse Rivin: So her entire body of work is what is domestic scenes. Basically, she did portraits, she did paintings of people that she knew, a lot of her family. She used her daughter and her husband as subject matter for her paintings and her sister and her nieces and nephews and other people she knew. She did a little bit of beautiful, nice pretty river scenes like some of the other impressionist artists, but mostly, she did domestic scenes. And they have a quality to them that is very, very soft and very lovely. She was very interested in the color and the use of, she was fascinated by the use of white. For those of you out there who have been to the museums, and you know that Manet was fascinated by the use of a lot of black. His black is very strong and very opaque. She was fascinated by white, and so there’s this transparency that comes through a lot of her work that she did in pastel and in watercolor, where you see the way she manages to get things like they’re floating through this veil of white. It’s actually very, very interesting and very beautiful.

[00:30:46] Elyse Rivin: And so there she was. She said, I will never stop painting, I will never stop being an artist, this is my life. And this is what she continued to do. When she was in her early fifties, her husband died. Eugene Manet died, apparently of syphilis.

[00:31:06] Annie Sargent: Mm,

[00:31:06] Elyse Rivin: Both Manets died of syphilis. Édouard Manet died of syphilis as well.

[00:31:11] Annie Sargent: It was very, very, very common, unfortunately, among a certain class of men who had spent their youth, we could say…Enjoying somepaid ladies?

[00:31:23] Elyse Rivin: Yes. Enjoying some paid ladies with certainly no notions of protection. I don’t know if they even existed at the time, but it was apparently extremely common for men to develop syphilis.

[00:31:37] Elyse Rivin: And there are apparently different kinds of syphilis. And what her husband had was a syphilis that was lodged in the lungs. So it was like he died of a lung disease, basically. And in 1892 he died and her daughter was 14. And by this time, she was really close friends with all of the impressionist artists, but also with a lot of the poets and writers. She knew Victor Hugo, who we talked about very recently, admired him enormously.

[00:32:05] Elyse Rivin: She was very close friends with a very famous poet, and that is Paul Mallarmé.

[00:32:11] Yes, Yes, Yes. Mallarmé. What did he write?

[00:32:14] Elyse Rivin: He wrote, he was one of the precursors of this new style of poetry. Poetry’s really not my forte, but I do know that he was one of the first poets to start writing in a more modern way.

[00:32:26] Elyse Rivin: But it’s very beautiful poetry. And he became very close to the family. Eventually, married her niece, actually. He was a bit younger, not too much, but a little bit younger than Berthe.

[00:32:37] Elyse Rivin: But because he was so close to the family, when her husband Eugene died, she made him tutor for her daughter. And her daughter Julie, who lived a very long life, she lived until 1966. She lived to be almost 90 years old. She was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. I’ve seen actually a couple of photographs of her. She in turn became a painter and a writer, and so there was this world that they lived in that was very rich and creative and very cultural.

[00:33:09] Elyse Rivin: And it was in the last few years of her life, Berthe, that she started to really experiment. She was very much influenced at the end of her life by Monet, who was starting, as we know, from seeing his, you know, lily pads and everything to sort of like dissolve the image. And she was fascinated by these new ideas about painting, which she carried through.

[00:33:29] Berthe Morisot dies at 54

[00:33:29] Elyse Rivin: But unfortunately, she died in 1898 at the age of 54.

[00:33:35] Annie Sargent: Wow. That’s young.

[00:33:36] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, she was young. She was very young. Both parents, unfortunately, died young. She died young. When you consider that Monet died at the age of 86, and most of the others in their seventies, unfortunately for her, she did die very young.

[00:33:48] Do we know why?

[00:33:49] Elyse Rivin: She caught the syphilis, apparently, from her husband.

[00:33:53] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:33:54] They say that she died of the flu, but I’ve read more, I was doing a lot of reading in the last few days, and they say there is more of a chance that in fact what happened was very simply that she caught the syphilis from him.

[00:34:06] It’s really important what we’re talking about. On her tombstone, on her death certificate was written, No profession. She would’ve screamed. She would’ve screamed if she was able to actually see that after all these years of dedication and energy, that they had the nerve to put on her death certificate No profession.

[00:34:28] Elyse Rivin: On her tombstone, the only thing that is written is Wife of Eugene Manet.

[00:34:35] Berthe’s art in Museums

[00:34:35] Elyse Rivin: The critics, after she died, Mallarmé and the circle of friends, the year after her death, they put together a retrospective of her work. She had a lot of work that she had actually sold. They gathered together work that had been sold to different private people.

[00:34:50] Elyse Rivin: But what happened was that Mallarmé found out that there was a huge collection of impressionist work that was about to enter the Museum of Luxembourg, which is still a very nice, small museum in Paris. And that it was a collection of all the impressionists, except for her. And he went to the director of the museum, and how he managed to convince them, I really don’t know. Did he get the other artists again? Your question is a good one, to back him up? He said you cannot have an exhibit of all the impressionist artists without having one work by Berthe Morisot in the collection. And that was the very first time one of her works entered a museum.

[00:35:32] “Sans profession” in France

[00:35:32] Annie Sargent: So, it’s really interesting the “sans profession” thing, “No profession”. Because as people probably know who listen to us, French people are very attached to paperwork and to keeping records and things like that. And on your records, it always says your name, your domicile, your home address and your status.

[00:35:55] Annie Sargent: So about my husband, they would say David Sargent, give his address, and then software engineer. Okay. With me it’s more kind of weird because when I moved back to France, people would ask me all the time, what was my profession? And I would say, well, I was a software translator.

[00:36:15] Annie Sargent: But then when I became a podcaster, you know, you say podcaster, now it’s known.

[00:36:20] Annie Sargent: But back just five years ago, nobody knew what that was. So I’m not surprised that long, so long ago when Berthe Morisot was alive, little girls were raised to think that it was okay to be “sans profession”, if you were a girl.

[00:36:35] Annie Sargent: If you were a boy, it was shameful and horrible. For a girl it was fine. It’s normal. And unfortunately, they applied that term to even women who had a profession and who did, so you mentioned that she sold paintings?

[00:36:50] Annie Sargent: Was she making a living out of this?

[00:36:52] Elyse Rivin: Yes, she was actually making a living. I mean, this is why it was really scandalous that they put on her death certificate, No profession.

[00:36:59] Elyse Rivin: She really was a working artist who had spent her life, I mean, clearly, she did not need to work in the sense that, you know, she had family money on both sides of her family. And this is like Toulouse-Lautrec. He had family money, he didn’t need to sell his paintings in order to feed himself. But she was a professional artist in the same exact way as all the other impressionists were.

[00:37:24] Elyse Rivin: But because she was a woman, and because she had been married and she was a widow on top of everything else, I think this is the ultimate insult to her at that time, that she was simply categorized as someone who was a painter maybe, but really, no profession.

[00:37:44] Annie Sargent: I wonder what they wrote onRosa Bonheur’s certificate.

[00:37:47] Elyse Rivin: I think they, I don’t know, but I would be so surprised if it wasn’t written artist or painter or something like that. It would be really interesting.

[00:37:56] Annie Sargent: You know, it really matters, these little details in French life really matter. You know, what’s your status, you know, are you unemployed? Are you, you know, working as a, I don’t know, they need to have some sort of idea of class. And you get idea of class from how people talk, how they present themselves physically, how they’re dressed, and also what it says on their official paperwork.

[00:38:20] Elyse Rivin: Unfortunately, yes, indeed. So this is really the coda, if you want to talk about the ending, but that comes a little bit later.

[00:38:29] Berthe’s Art rediscovered after the World War II

[00:38:29] Elyse Rivin: Berthe Morisot had one retrospective immediately after her death, and then she basically was forgotten. Because, the critics who came just after that decided that she was a minor impressionist artist. That’s the term that they used. She was a minor impressionist artist, and so she was largely forgotten.

[00:38:54] Elyse Rivin: And she was forgotten except for the fact that her work, by the time it was 10 or 15 years after her death, interestingly enough, a lot of her work had been dispersed into private collections all over the world, and a lot of it, a great deal of it, in the United States.

[00:39:10] Elyse Rivin: Her daughter spent the rest of her life not just being a painter, but actually helping to try to promote the legacy of her art.

[00:39:20] Elyse Rivin: But it wasn’t until after World War II that two American women, art historians, who were starting to develop the field, which is now a flourishing rich field of art history in relation to the women, rediscovered, literally, rediscovered her work. And one of them was a woman I had actually didn’t know about her before this.

[00:39:44] Elyse Rivin: She had been the president of Mount Holyoke College, which is a women’s college in Massachusetts. And she had discovered her work and she did her doctoral thesis on her work. And because she had connections to the National Gallery in Washington DC, this is post World War II, we’re talking well after World War II.

[00:40:03] Elyse Rivin: There was already someone who had written quite a few books on why aren’t there women in art history, exactly what we’re talking about. They organized a retrospective of her work in 1983, so this is almost 100 years after her death. This was the first major retrospective of her work. It was in the National Gallery in Washington DC and they managed to get a lot of the work from all these private collectors. A lot in the States, a lot in Japan, a little bit in France.

[00:40:34] Elyse Rivin: It’s only been then in the last 40 years or so that her reputation has really gone, I guess I could, I mean, this is silly metaphor, but sky high in the sense that she is now considered to be one of the more important of the impressionist artists.

[00:40:51] Where would you go to see Berthe Morisot’s work?

[00:40:51] Annie Sargent: So, if you want to see her work, where would you go?

[00:40:55] Elyse Rivin: You have two places in Paris that you can see her work.

[00:40:58] Elyse Rivin: One of course is Orsay, where there is, like with the other impressionist artists, a rotating collection of some of her work, very beautiful works. Some of them are paintings, some of them are pastel. She did a lot of work in pastel.

[00:41:10] Elyse Rivin: And the other place in Paris is the Marmottan Museum. Because she is really associated at the end of her life with Monet, who became a very close friend of hers and who influenced and inspired her to try new ideas. So they have a very nice permanent collection of her work as well.

[00:41:29] Elyse Rivin: And here, in Toulouse, in one of the private art museums, which is the Fondation Bemberg, they have three or four lovely pieces by her. And a lot of museums now have one or two pieces, they’ve managed to pick them up. But the primary places you’d find them are certainly of those two museums in Paris.

[00:41:50] Elyse Rivin: And then in the United States in the museum, in the Met in New York, in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, in Washington DC, and scattered over the Cincinnati Museum, Minneapolis Art Museum, Boston Art Museum.

[00:42:05] Elyse Rivin: Interestingly enough, the impressionists, and particularly the work by her and a couple of others, was very much appreciated by American collectors before it became that important in France. I don’t know why.

[00:42:19] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. I wish we knew why. Were Americans more open minded?I think, if you consider that her subject matter is not unconventional, I think that American collectors didn’t care that it was a woman, maybe that was the difference. Because if you look at her work, you can see it’s very pretty in the sense that it’s all these domestic scenes and she wasn’t trying to shock people by the subject matter.

[00:42:48] Elyse Rivin: And I think that the prejudice about, Oh, I don’t want to necessarily buy this work because it’s by a woman, did not exist among the collectors that were American. It’s very interesting. The Japanese, also very soon, quickly after the Impressionists were alive, became among the people to buy a lot of their works.

[00:43:08] Elyse Rivin: So I think these are good questions that I don’t know what the answer is. Because is it a question of sensibility, this is the kind of work they liked? I don’t know. It’s really good, as a question.

[00:43:19] Elyse Rivin: I just want to give a couple of numbers, because when they talk about the fact that she was not necessarily a professional painter, aside from the work that was sold, what she left behind was over 400 paintings.

[00:43:34] Annie Sargent: That’s huge. That’s a lot.

[00:43:36] Elyse Rivin: It’s a huge number of paintings. She had, this was in the estate when she died, 191 pastels, 240 watercolors and over 2000 drawings.

[00:43:49] Annie Sargent: That’s incredible. That’s a lot of work. Yeah, she was definitely working every day or most days for hours and hours on end, like she was dedicating plenty of her life to this work.

[00:44:01] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, she was, she said, I like this quote fromthe poet Paul Valéry, who was also someone close to her, in her family. In fact, it was he that it was the one that married her niece, it wasn’t Mallarmé.

[00:44:14] Elyse Rivin: This is what he said. He wrote an introduction to a book about her after she had died, and he said: The uniqueness of Berthe Morisot was that she lived her painting and painted her life. It was natural and necessary and vital to her existence.

[00:44:31] Annie Sargent: Wow. So it sounds like she had a rather conventional life, unfortunately cut short by disease, but a very productive artist and someone that I’m going to be on the lookout for her pieces, here and there. You said that lots of different museums have one or two. That makes it hard because if they’re scattered everywhere, then it’s hard to really get an idea, you know?

[00:44:57] Annie Sargent: Do you know of any retrospectives coming up?

[00:45:00] Elyse Rivin: No, I do not know of any retrospectives. I do know that there’s a nice small collection that’s permanently on display at the Marmottan in Paris. And of course, there are the two or three that I always like to go and say hello to when I go to the Bemberg Foundation here in Toulouse.

[00:45:16] I don’t know. No, I don’t know if there’s a retrospective planned. I don’t know ifthere’s any kind of show. You know, retrospectives are hard because you have to collect work from lots of different places, lots of different people, and they don’t usually happen more than once every decade or something like that.

[00:45:33] Elyse Rivin: So, I don’t know.

[00:45:34] Annie Sargent: I wonder if you went to the Orsay Museum, how would you go about finding her paintings? Like could you just ask one of the staff?

[00:45:42] Elyse Rivin: You could ask one of the guards. She’s definitely in the couple of rooms that havework by Manet and then there’s a couple of her works in the same room as some of the bigger works by Manet.

[00:45:55] Elyse Rivin: And then in, there’s another room that has a lot of work bytwo other impressionist artists, Pissarro and Sisley. Usually, there are a few of her pieces in that room as well.

[00:46:04] Elyse Rivin: But I think the easiest thing almost to do is ask one of the guards. They should know. Usually the guards are people who are either artists or somebody who is very much interested in the work and they usually really know what’s going on in the collection.

[00:46:18] Elyse Rivin: Or you can do one of the tours that they do have. They have audio tours now that will explain a lot of things about the different artists’ work. And of course, her work is now included in that collection.

[00:46:30] Annie Sargent: Well, thank you very much, Elyse.

[00:46:31] As I had guessed at the beginning, I learned a lot.

[00:46:34] Annie Sargent: Thank you so much.

[00:46:35] Elyse Rivin: You are quite welcome Annie.

[00:46:37] Elyse Rivin: Au revoir.

[00:46:37] Annie Sargent: Au revoir.


[00:46:45] Thank you patrons

[00:46:45] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for supporting this show and giving back. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that, you can see them at Thank you all for supporting the show. Some of you have been doing it for a long time, you are wonderful.

[00:47:03] New patrons

[00:47:03] Annie Sargent: And a shout out this week to new patrons, David DeBenedicts, Lorraine R, Lisa Cooper, George T. Massie and Adam Gatewood. Thank you so much for becoming patrons and making this podcast possible.

[00:47:20] Annie Sargent: Patrons, log into Patreon once in a while because it’s possible the notifications for new rewards that come on email are ending up in your spam. A lot of problems with my emails ending up in spam. Not for everybody, but for enough people that I worry about it.

[00:47:36] Annie Sargent: This week I published a video with my thoughts on visiting Tennessee for my patrons. I was surprised by several things because it was like all new to me. It was my first time in the South.

[00:47:48] Annie Sargent: So let me know what you think of my reaction to a visit to the South, patrons.

[00:47:53] Annie Sargent: I also published a video of my quick and dirty Tian de Légumes. My husband, who is not a big fan of vegetables, had two servings and then noticed that there wasn’t much left underneath. Oh, I’ll just polish it off. Getting him to eat vegetables brings me great satisfaction.

[00:48:10] Annie Sargent: Hey, perhaps I can get some of you to eat more vegetables too, patrons!

[00:48:15] Preparing a trip to France?

[00:48:15] Annie Sargent: If you are preparing a trip to France and listening to as many episodes as you can to get ready, keep listening to this podcast because that’s a great way to do it. You can also hire me to be your itinerary consultant. Here’s how it works.

[00:48:30] Annie Sargent: You purchase the service on Then you fill out a document to tell me what you have in mind, we make a phone appointment, and then we chat for about an hour. And then I send you a document with the plan we discussed.

[00:48:45] Annie Sargent: My time is booked up several weeks in advance. You’ll see the date for my next appointment availability on the only page where you can buy this service at the Join Us in France Boutique. So there shouldn’t be any surprises.

[00:49:00] Annie Sargent: If you cannot talk to me because I’m all booked up, you can still take me in your pocket by getting my GPS self-guided tour on the VoiceMap app. I’ve produced five tours and they are designed to show you around different iconic neighborhoods of Paris.

[00:49:17] Annie Sargent: Take a look at these tours

[00:49:22] Personal Update

[00:49:22] Annie Sargent: So for my personal update this week, well, my husband and I came home from a wonderful trip to Tennessee a few days ago. I had never visited the South of the US and it was a wonderful surprise. We spent four days in Nashville where we took a VoiceMap tour, because those tours make it so easy to see the best of the city.

[00:49:42] Annie Sargent: This tour took us to Broadway, the street with the Honky Tonks and the bars and everything. It’s a constant party there. And since we were there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, it was a big party. Honestly, I couldn’t hear myself think. So many people there. And so loud, Oh, all the bars are so loud and the trucks and all of it. The whole thing is loud.

[00:50:04] Annie Sargent: We also went to the Grand Old Opry, much more sedate. I loved it. I’m not really a devoted country music fan, but I enjoy many of the big country hits and those Grand Old Opry musicians are so amazing. They’re very impressive.

[00:50:21] Annie Sargent: On a different day, we drove to the cute town of Franklin, where I was reminded that many Americans take great joy in decorating their homes for Halloween. Then we also went to the Jack Daniels whiskey store where we took a tour as well. An interesting place Jack Daniels, and a lot of history for a dry county, especially.

[00:50:44] Annie Sargent: Now I’m not a big fan of whiskey, but we did a tasting at the end. I gave most of it to my husband who wasn’t driving anyway, but I did enjoy the Jack Daniels Honey. Not bad for a whiskey, really.

[00:50:58] Annie Sargent: And of course, we had to see the Country Music Hall of Fame. I took down the names of all the Ladies of Country and made a playlist. It’s very fun. I haven’t gotten to all the men yet, but there are so many country music super famous people.

[00:51:14] Annie Sargent: We went to the Nashville Parthenon. I wasn’t sure what we’d find there, but the inside, the massive statue of Athena was just stunning. Plus on that day, we got to hang out with my sister-in-law, Jeanne, who came to Nashville for business and took the time, she spent an extra day, to spend some time with us. It was quite the treat. She was on episode 200 of the podcast talking about her visit to Paris with her boys. It was very fun to see her.

[00:51:45] Annie Sargent: Then we drove off to a gorgeous hotel where we only stayed for two nights. I could have stayed at least one more night, honestly. It was that great. It was called the Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn and Cottages. It’s a short drive to Dollywood, and our cottage was fantastic. We had the Little Green Cottage. It was very idyllic. And that’s where we met Nick and Jane from Oregon who listen to the podcast. So hello to both of you.

[00:52:13] They were lovely and we had a great time spending the next few days together. We, my husband and I, we like Dolly’s music and we are really impressed with her as a person. We like amusement parks and our friends were going, so why not? We liked Dollywood a lot more than I thought I would anyway.

[00:52:32] I only rode one roller coaster because I’m a chicken, but we loved the bluegrass music all over the park. The park is beautifully decorated and their cinnamon bread, oh my goodness, move over Cinnabon, the Dollywood cinnamon bread is so, so, so good.

[00:52:52] Annie Sargent: We also went to Dolly’s DreamMore hotel for dinner. And that’s where I got to try cheese grits with a white sauce on top. It was so good. I brought a box of Quacker Oats Grits. That’s hard for me to say. I made some at home already, but, you know, you make half a cup for four people, so I got enough for a while. I also liked the hushpuppies, the pimento cheese, that’s a cheese spread, it was good. I made it at home, it was very easy. Biscuits and gravy, I had never had that, I had heard of it, but never had it. It was really good.

[00:53:28] The pork barbecue stuff didn’t, I didn’t love that so much, I mean I ate some, but I didn’t love it. We also saw a lot of Cracker Barrel restaurants and enjoyed some Turnip Greens. I love Turnip Greens, especially with malt vinegar. I don’t know why. It’s just, mm, love that stuff.

[00:53:48] Annie Sargent: Did I say that we ate plenty? Yeah, we ate plenty. Good food. It’s so, you know, so tasty. The food in the South is so tasty. I loved it.

[00:53:58] Annie Sargent: Then we were off to the Great Smokey National Park where we took a GPS self-guided tour on an app called Gypsy Guide. And it was really good. I think VoiceMap, the technology of VoiceMap would do a better job keeping track of the segments that we’ve already heard. But the content was great, we learned a lot. It was much better than bumbling around on our own and not figuring out what the best places are.

[00:54:27] Annie Sargent: The views were stunning. We did some hiking, nothing major, but a little bit of hiking, lots of picture taking. It was wonderful.

[00:54:36] Annie Sargent: Gatlinburg was better than Pigeon Forge, but both are really super touristy.

[00:54:43] Annie Sargent: And FYI, paris is cheaper than Tennessee, but we don’t have the Great Smokey Mountains, the Quiet Walkways, the cabins, the trees, the colors in the fall. It was all stunning. So thank you again, Nick and Jane for letting us tag along on your 30th anniversary vacation. And Nick, I hope you get that Tesla Cybertruck soon. I’m not sure you will, but hopefully you will.

[00:55:11] Annie Sargent: And speaking of the Cybertruck, while there are some Teslas in Tennessee, there are almost zero other electric cars of any brands. I think I saw one, and I’ve been looking. I used apps to try to locate chargers around me and there are so few of them.

[00:55:30] Annie Sargent: I think you’re falling behind, tennessee, we’re way ahead. in my little corner of the southwest of France. Much easier to get around in a electric car here cuz we have, I mean by comparison, we have chargers everywhere. Anyway, lovely vacation, I really enjoyed my time in the South of the US.

[00:55:49] Show notes

[00:55:49] Annie Sargent: Show notes and a full transcript for this episode are on, the numeral.

[00:55:58] Annie Sargent: And if you enjoy this podcast, please tell someone about it. You are my only marketing. And somehow, this podcast has gotten more than three million listens, so you are doing it right. Thank you.

[00:56:11] Next week on the podcast

[00:56:11] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, an episode about following the Tour de France with Tammy McKibben, and the official route of the tour was just released. So for those of you who are hoping to follow the tour, now is the time to make your reservations and study the route and see where you want to go exactly.

[00:56:30] Annie Sargent: Send questions or feedback to Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.

[00:56:41] Annie Sargent: Au revoir.

[00:56:42] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2022 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial, No Derivatives license.

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Categories: Arts & Architecture, French History