Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Berthe Morisot, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris (8 March-29 July 2012)

Housed in a former seventeenth century hunting lodge and inherited by renowned eighteenth French art historian and collector Paul Marmottan in the rue Louis Boilly in Paris, Musée Marmottan is equally as charming although not as jaw dropping as Musée Rodin.  The museum was exhibiting the first retrospective ever(!!) of impressionist artist Berthe Morisot.  Extended due to public demand, a chance spotting of the publicity poster on the Metro, lead me to this fascinating exhibition.  Morisot, along with Mary Cassatt, are known as the female impressionists and to an extent suffer the same critical neglect or unfavourable comparisons to their male counterparts as sculptress (and their peer) Camille Claudel.  Morisot, like Claudel was an attractive woman and features in many of Manet’s paintings (indeed she married his younger brother).  However, greater investigation of her life and work show an engagement with artistic concerns and debates of her time, which deserve revisiting.
The exhibition presented a huge volume of her work, many paintings within which were not completed.   Those that were, lit up the room.  Yes, most of her paintings depicted domestic scenes of upper middle class domesticity and portraits of family (particularly her daughter, Julie), but this was the only world available to her.  But what paintings – luscious and seductive brushstrokes combined with sumptuous colours evoke the most delicate of impressions of modern life (as was).  For me, she is at her strongest when painting suburban Parisian scene en plein which equal (and in some cases pre-date) the work of Monsieurs Monet, et al.  Equally striking are her studies of women at their toilette – another favourite subject of her male counterparts.  Can we perceive a female set of eyes watching these models?  Do they differ from the gaze of a male artist?  Is the scene less erotic and more empathic or am I just reading too much gender difference within such work?  In any event, a lovely, lovely exhibition to chance upon.

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