Berthe Morisot met Édouard Manet through their mutual friend, the painter Henri Fantin-Latour around 1867, and she would go on to become the first female Impressionist. In 1874 Morisot married Manet’s younger brother Eugène, and pictures of their only child, Julie (1878-1966), by her mother and her uncle, are highlights of the Rouart Collection, which will be presented at Christie’s Paris Avant-garde auction along with works by Jean-Paul Riopelle, Zao Wou-Ki, Pierre Soulages and Jean Dubuffet on 21 October.
Julie’s parents both died early – Eugène in 1892, aged 59, and Berthe in 1895, aged 54 – leaving her orphaned at the age of 16. Five years later Julie married Ernest Rouart, son of the painter and collector Henri Rouart, and himself a talented artist.
Berthe Morisot, Berthe morisot et sa fille devant une fenêtre, 1887. Oil on canvas. 26⅞ x 19¾ in (68.2 x 50 cm). Estimate: €250,000-350,000. Offered in Paris Avant-garde on 21 October 2021 at Christie’s in Paris
Six works by Morisot and two by Manet are included in the sale, which coincides with the FIAC art fair at the Grand Palais Ephérème (21-25 October). ‘This is when international curators, dealers, and institutions are in town and therefore most likely to visit us,’ says Antoine Lebouteiller, director of the Impressionist & Modern Art department at Christie’s in Paris.
Most of the works in the collection belonged at some point to Clément Rouart, the second of Julie and Ernest’s three children. Most have been loaned to museums around the world, but Morisot’s 1883 La Fillette blonde (1883, estimate: €70,000-100,000), has never been seen in public.
Julie Manet sur l’arrosoir (1882, estimate: €4,000,000-6,000,000), which Clément inherited from his parents, is the star of the collection: there are very few paintings by Manet in private hands, it is a larger-format work (100 x 81 cm), and the lack of a signature makes it feel more intimate, since it was destined to stay in the family.
The rendering of the watering can alone conveys a real sense of modernity. It reminds Lebouteiller of the work of Joan Mitchell, one of the leading second-generation Abstract Expressionists. ‘This painting is the last breath of Manet – who then turned to still lifes and garden views – as a portraitist. A part of me cannot help but see it is as a projection of the child he never had with Berthe Morisot,’ he says. Some critics believe the artists were lovers. Others maintain that their relationship remained purely platonic.
Another highlight, Julie Manet à quinze mois (1879, estimate: €250,000-350,000), has benefited from a subtle clean. ‘We work with a restorer who knows when to show restraint,’ says Lebouteiller. ‘We could have tightened the canvas, cleaned the edges, made a slight repair in the centre, but we know that buyers usually prefer a work to be in its original state.’
Lebouteiller sees the collection as testimony to what both artists brought to one another’s work. Some of Morisot’s paintings could pass for Manet’s, and vice versa – and as a result of the art world’s efforts to achieve gender parity, Morisot has become just as desirable. ‘We are contacted on a monthly basis by Japanese, Korean, and American institutions which have made it their mission, for the past three years, to purchase only works by female artists.’
The six works by Morisot include a unique tin bas-relief, La Toilette (c. 1890, estimate: €3,000-5,000), a small sketch of a child’s head – possibly Julie – on a used palette, Tête d’enfant (palette) (c. 1881-82, estimate: €10,000-15,000), and four paintings.
Berthe Morisot et sa fille devant une fenêtre (1887, estimate: €250,000-350,000) may not be labelled as a self-portrait, but it definitely is one. Morisot, then aged 46, sits on a large sofa holding a sketchbook as her daughter stands before the window.
Le flageolet (1890, estimate: €150,000-250,000) shows two young female figures playing flutes. More unexpected is Bateaux à quai , (estimate: €80,000-120,000) an 1886 seascape which echoes Manet’s The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1868). ‘It really feels as if we were ourselves on a boat at the same level as the busy fishermen and sailors on the opposite wharf,’ says Lebouteiller.
The eight works to be auctioned are testimony to the affection Morisot and Édouard Manet had for Julie, who became a key figure in the artistic Rouart circle along with her cousins Paule and Jeannie Gobillard. Paule (1867-1946) was a noted Post-Impressionist painter and Jeannie later married the writer and poet Paul Valéry.