LIFE AS MYTH

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JOURNAL 2011

Life as Myth

Naming a life

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SUMMER 2011

A feminine myth

Index 2011

Artist and model

The Manet mystery

Bridging art and life

Claiming her own voice

The muse of Morisot

A feminine myth

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LIFEWORKS

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SUMMER 2011
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BRIDGING ART AND LIFE

In the park also known as On the grass. Berthe Morisot. 1874. Petit Palais, Paris. The models are Edma and her children.

Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet married on December 22, 1874 in the local church, Our Lady of Grace in Passy. Morisot's life-altering choice, to marry and to marry this particular man, provides a window into the head and heart of this woman.

Eugene Manet (1833-1893) was the second of three sons born into a wealthy and socially prominent family. He was very different from his brothers, Édouard and Gustave, in both physical appearance and temperament. With his beard and silky blonde hair he somewhat resembled Édouard, though Eugene was slighter and less dashing. He also had a decidedly more romantic aesthetic on life and love. His brothers were drawn to the glittering and provocative life of mid-nineteenth century Paris. Eugene, on the other hand, was more private and self-effacing, sensitive to the point of being high-strung. Because of his significant financial assets, he chose to be a man of leisure rather than pursue any particular occupation as his brothers did.

When the relationship between Morisot and Manet began to warm, Mme. Morisot voiced her objections. She found him high-strung -- to the point of being in ill health --and too idle to make a good marital partner. Morisot's father lived a dissolute life and after a lengthy illness had recently died. For years, Mme. Morisot had nursed him and her concerns about Morisot's marriage were likely due to that. Despite how much she had pressured her daughter to marry, Eugene seemed an unhappy choice. But Mme Morisot was wrong.

I've found an honest and excellent young man who, I believe, sincerely loves me. I've entered into the positive side of life after having lived for a long time by chimeras.
A letter from Berthe Morisot to her brother Tiburce (January 1875)

Morisot was always ambivalent about pursuing her work as an artist, in lieu of marriage and family. She and her sister Edma exchanged letters over a period of years, Edma questioning her decision to abandon painting and Morisot assuring her that it is sad to be alone; despite anything that might be said or done, a woman has an immense need of affection. And yet Morisot, acutely sensitive and self-reflective, chose to remain single, weathering her isolation while becoming an increasingly accomplished artist.

For three years Manet and Morisot grew closer. The turning point came when their families vacationed together at the seaport of Fécamp in the summer of 1874. While painting side by side near a naval construction site, the two decided to marry. Marriage was certainly the expected choice at that time. Yet she had remained single into her thirties. To say that her age, coupled with parental and societal pressure, determined her choice is to underrate both Manet and Morisot. When Morisot decided to marry, she chose a man that was entrenched in the art world that she loved and unfailingly supportive and, if their correspondence is any indication, deeply in love with her

 

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