In 1891, after returning to Paris from a summer sojourn in Mézy, a small village in the valley of the Seine, Berthe Morisot began several new paintings using her daughter Julie and family friends as models. In Jeune fille écrivant, Morisot captures her daughter Julie, aged twelve, in a private moment of contemplation and quietude, reading a book at a desk by the window, bathed in natural sunlight. This painting is a superlative example of Morisot's late style, when she became increasingly interested in the effects of intense sunlight on her subjects, expressing this effect with a vibrant color palette and spontaneous, sketch-like, undulating brushstrokes. "Morisot increasingly sought to solve color decisions with drawing and drawing decisions with color." (W.P. Scott, "Morisot's Style and Technique", Berthe Morisot, Impressionist, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1987, p. 187). Her work in pastel, charcoal and watercolor led her to experiment with this rapid, flickering style of brushwork that she eventually applied to her oil paintings, earning her a reputation as a leading exponent of the Impressionist technique.
In Jeune fille écrivant Morisot portrays Julie languorously reading at her desk, her chin propped on her arm and her legs neatly crossed under the table. The large window in the background provides a centralized grid that is counterbalanced by the free and sinuous brushstrokes that create the curtains, the flow of her hair and dress and the swirling colors of the room. There are subtle highlights of white within the window panes and dappled in the interior, intimating a crisp winter day and the cold and stillness outside, providing a stark contrast to the warmth and vibrancy of life found inside Morisot's home.
(fig. 1) Photograph of Julie Manet, age 16