BERTHE MORISOT (1841-1895)
BERTHE MORISOT (1841-1895)
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BERTHE MORISOT (1841-1895)

Jeanne Pontillon au chapeau

BERTHE MORISOT (1841-1895)
Jeanne Pontillon au chapeau
stamped with the signature 'Berthe Morisot' (Lugt 1826; lower right)
pastel on paper
19 7/8 x 17 1/2 in. (50.4 x 44.5 cm.)
Executed in 1893
Estate of the artist.
Julie Manet & Ernest Rouart, Paris, the artist's daughter and son-in-law, until at least 1929.
The Late Hon. Lady Baillie, Kent; sale, Sotheby’s, London, 4 December 1974, lot 155.
Pauline K. Cave, New York, the daughter of The Hon. Lady Baillie, by whom possibly acquired at the above sale; estate sale, Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 1984, lot 9.
Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
M.-L. Bataille and G. Wildenstein, Berthe Morisot, Catalogue des peintures, pastels et aquarelles, Paris, 1961, p. 60, no. 596 (illustrated fig. 567).
Paris, Galerie L. Dru, Exposition de Pastels, Aquarelles, Dessins, Crayons de Berthe Morisot, May - June 1926, no. 35, p. 12 (titled 'Mlle J. P.').
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Expositions d’œuvres de Berthe Morisot, May 1929, no. 145.
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Berthe Morisot, Summer 1941, no. 155.
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition Berthe Morisot, pastels, aquarelles, dessins, April 1948, no. 69.

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Imogen Kerr Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The 1880s and early 1890s mark a period of great transformation for Berthe Morisot and her artistic practice. In those years, she began to take a new interest in drawing and decided to revisit the medium with a newly found motivation and excitement.

It might have seemed as if Morisot was seeking to achieve a more solid structure and defined forms in her practice of that period, however, it must be stressed that during those last years she was simultaneously carrying out a very different form of research that would lead her to think of colour as a structuring tool in her compositions. Jeanne Pontillon au chapeau executed in 1893 is a testament to the latter. It is a manifest of Morisot’s brave attempts to explore a new language by revisiting the medium of drawing for the last time.

The present work portrays the artist’s niece Jeanne Pontillon, a daughter of Morisot’s sister Edma who was also an artist. Enveloped by soft clouds of colour, her face seems to almost float, suspended within the frivolous masses of hues and shades - intertwined and melted into one another. The present work is an ode to colour, a visual feast which Morisot achieved by shaping the composition with masses of shades and hues. The immediate yellows of the sitter’s hat keep on revealing hints of light blues, greens and reds. All merged into one ethereal cloud, they gently blanket Jeanne’s face.

The unfinished state of the drawing seems very intentional, giving the work its floating and suspended form which aids in its reading as fleeting and transient. It speaks to Morisot’s attempts to capture something of the passing moment, a fleeting feeling, a mood. The masses of colour shaping the composition and the brave frivolousness of the artist’s touch are a testament to how far Morisot managed to push her artistic language in those final years. Jeanne Pontillon au chapeau is a manifest of Morisot’s excitement, desire and appetite for exploring new ways of artistic expression.

Jean Dominique Rey beautifully described Morisot’s practice of the 1890s: ‘What is striking about all her last works is less the impression that they are unfinished which is only true of the very last pictures, than a feeling of progress brutally interrupted: it was as though everything that she glimpsed, discovered, and captured for a moment during those final years was no sooner conquered than lost again, as if dashed from her grasp by death’ (J.D. Rey, Berthe Morisot, Bergamo, 1982, p. 72).

At the beginning of 1895 Morisot fell ill and within a couple of months she passed away. Morisot had an extremely strong bond with her only daughter Julie who became a favourite model to the artist. Therefore, it was only right that, after Morisot’s death, the present work remained in Julie Manet’s and her partner Ernest Rouart’s possession. Jeanne Pontillon au chapeau was then acquired by the Honourable Olive, Lady Baillie - an Anglo-American heiress and socialite and a proud resident of the impressive Leeds Castle in Kent. Intriguingly, the pastel drawing carries its own modern version of a mother-daughter story, embedded into its provenance. The work was most probably purchased by Lady Baillie’s daughter, Pauline K. Cave, at her mother’s estate auction in 1974. According to a New York Times article from November 1984, Cave admitted a friendly rivalry between herself and her mother when it came to collecting Impressionist art and European furniture. Having very similar taste, the women would often compete to purchase the same works of art.

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