|Julie playing violin|
I made a new friend today, and I’m so excited. Her name is Berthe Morisot, and she’s a GREAT French impressionist painter. Granted, she’s been dead 124 years, but why let a little thing like that get in the way of our relationship? I mean, we won’t be getting together for café au lait anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t buds, right?
The Barnes Foundation is presenting an exhibition of Berthe’s work. You need to know this about the Barnes: it is arguably the most idiosyncratic art museum on the planet. Dr. Albert Barnes hung his purchased masterworks according to an eccentric, self-devised pattern: he would find a unifying element (colors, shapes, subject, etc.) and then just put everything together on a wall. An El Greco might hang right next to a Pennsylvania Dutch farm implement, and a Gaughin. A visit to the Barnes is a feast for (or assault on?) the senses, and even a little bit of the totality can be overwhelming.
But the Morisot exhibit was different, just room after room of one gifted woman’s artistic expression. Berthe was every bit as talented as Degas or Monet in my view, but she’s been all but forgotten. With shimmering brushstrokes, she immortalized the 1880’s ideal of Parisian beauty in fashion and furniture—but she also painted gorgeous still lifes and landscapes. Her favorite subject was her daughter Julie, who she captured playing an instrument, holding a doll, and staring confidently at her mom, the artist.
So what do we have in common? Besides having daughters named Julie?
I was struck by this: for most of her working life, Berthe did not have any kind of artist’s studio. Instead, she drew and painted at her kitchen table, in her bedroom, in the back yard. I can imagine her, in the thick of her household hubbub, drawing energy from the people and things swirling around her. I can see her clearing the breakfast dishes to make space for her palette. I have done the same, moving someone’s cereal bowl to make room for my laptop. The core message is that creativity and inspiration will find a way through the most mundane circumstances. I don’t kid myself that I am on Morisot’s level of talent, but I get her milieu, big time.
It has taken over a century for Berthe Morisot to begin to get her due. My prayer, for my daughters, and all the daughters of our time, is that they may be recognized, while they live, for the great gifts they have to give. May they have the choice of working in the dining room or the board room, both valid places for their talent to flourish.
Berthe, mon amie, I wish we had shared the planet at the same time. I think we really would have clicked. But I still count you as a friend, and I hope future generations will be enriched by your vision, your beautiful impressions of the people and places you loved.
|Eugene Manet (Bethe's husband) and young Julie|