The granddaughter of artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a student of Jean-Baptiste-Camille, the wife of Eugène Manet and an essential part of the Impressionist group who broke with traditional ideas of painting in Paris at the end of the 19th century, Berthe Morisot has been considered a companion of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. But the artist (1841-1895) was much more than a supporting player within the Impressionist movement; her landscapes, female portraits and scenes of daily life pay testament to her indisputable leading role.
You can judge this for yourself at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which has just opened the first retrospective devoted to the artist ever to be held in Spain. It features more than 30 of her works, lent by the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris and the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland, alongside other masterpieces of Impressionism belonging to the Thyssen. The show forms a preview to a larger monographic exhibition that the Marmottan is set to devote to her next March in Paris.
Paloma Alarcó, head of Modern Painting conservation at the Thyssen, has curated the exhibition to present a thematic, chronological and biographical journey in five sections: Corot and open-air painting, Manet and the intimate portrait, Painting life, living painting, Parks and gardens and The rural world.
The oil painting The Psyché/The Cheval Glass (1876), which belongs to the Thyssen, serves to kick the show off. The canvas was Morisot's entry in the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 and the young girl seen in front of an imperial-style mirror captures her concern for studying light and color, as well as her interest in topics such as fashion.
Standing in front of the forests of colored brushstrokes that make up her gardens and the delicate female nudes in everyday poses, Alarcó talks about how Morisot treated the same subjects differently from her male colleagues: "In their work," explains the curator, "the nudes are presented from the perspective of a voyeur, [whereas] she surrounds them with an intimate and everyday atmosphere that makes it easy for the public to approach them." The poet Paul Valéry summed up Morisot's way of understanding art: "She lived her painting and she painted her life."
Berthe Morisot. La pintora impresionista. Until February 12 at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Pº del Prado 8, Madrid. www.museothyssen.org