In Focus: Morisot and Cassatt

Authored by: WAG Staff on July 27, 2018

Berthe Morisot's Portrait of Mme Boursier and Her Daughter (Portrait de Mme Boursier et de sa fille)

In 1894, journalist, art critic, and historian Gustave Geffroy named Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Marie Bracquemond the three “grandes dames” of Impressionism. This month, take a closer look at the lives and work of Morisot and Cassatt who are featured in the WAG's Summer with the Impressionists. While they were denied entry to the Art Academy in Paris based on gender, Cassatt and Morisot pushed ahead to become leading figures in the Impressionist movement.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) sought out private instruction with some of the finest artists of the time in France. During this period, young women like Morisot could not go out in public without a chaperone, nor could they frequent places like cafés. Morisot focused instead on domestic scenes capturing the everyday life of women, or intimate portraits of family and friends.

Particularly notable for their modernity and boldness, her paintings represented women and children as real people, without the sentimentality of Madonna and Child symbolism. Currently on view at the Gallery, Madame Boursier and her daughter from 1871 reveals her technical skill and bravado in creating a vibrant impression using quick, unblended strokes of paint.

She was one of few women to have her work accepted into the prestigious Salon de Paris exhibition, but she chose to exhibit with the radical Impressionists, participating in seven of their eight group shows. In 1874 she married Eugène Manet, brother of the avant-garde painter Édouard Manet. She purposely signed her works Morisot, even while married, and chose not to indicate gender with a first name.

Tragically, Morisot died at the age of 54, much earlier than many of her male Impressionist counterparts, whose names would live on in the history books. But her impact and influence was felt by many of them including Édouard Manet. It was Morisot who convinced Manet to paint outside, a major tenet of the Impressionists. While she is an important part of the Impressionist story, she was largely forgotten until the 1970s. In 2013 she became the highest priced female artist when one of her works sold for over $10 million.

The American-born Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was devoted both to her art and her politics, and throughout her life they often intertwined. Cassatt began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. In 1866 she moved to Paris, frustrated because the Academy barred female students from drawing nude models. She studied privately with the instructors from the Art Academy in Paris and copied Old Masters at the Louvre.

Rejecting the conventions of marriage and motherhood, she embraced her independence and forged a profitable and successful career as an artist. Working in a world primarily dominated by men, one of her greatest missions was to paint women “as subjects, not objects” for spectacle.

Her work was displayed at the Salon de Paris in 1868 and well received by critics. She was frustrated by, and publically denounced, the special attention the all-male jury expected to receive from female artists. Cassatt was rejected from the 1877 Salon, at which point she accepted Edgar Degas’ invitation to join the Impressionists, becoming the first American in their ranks.

Like Morisot, Cassatt captured interior scenes of women going about their everyday activities, and she made that subject the strength of her work. Using her relatives and their children as primary models, she painted some of the most brilliant and enlightening images of womanhood during the late 19th century. Cassatt became known as a famous painter of mother and child scenes, but was an equally gifted printmaker. France awarded Cassatt the Légion d'honneur in 1904, but it has taken time for Cassatt’s work and contributions to be acknowledged in North America.

Join us on August 17 (7pm) for the guided tour on Morisot and Cassatt led by Rachel Baerg, WAG Head of Education, free with Gallery admission, and enjoy our cash bar (offered every Friday night during your Summer with the Impressionists!). More tour dates and times can be found here.

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  • we will attend the august 17 tour

    david hallatt / Leslie5354

    2018-08-13 10:36

  • I would like to join Morisot and Cassatt tour on Friday evening - can I bring a guest? Thanks.

    William Kops


    2018-08-14 17:21

  • My wife and I are looking forward to your presentation on Friday.

    Bob Coulter

    2018-08-16 23:04

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