Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
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Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Intérieur

Details
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
Intérieur
signed 'Berthe Morisot' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 28¾ in. (60 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1872
Provenance
Tadamara Hayashi.
Eugène Blot, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 9 and 10 May 1900, lot 124.
Marquise de Ganay, Paris.
Roger Soulange Bodin, Paris, by 1920, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Literature
C. Mauclair, 'Le Salon d'Automne', in L'Art Décoratif, Paris, vol. II, 1907, p. 163 (illustrated).
M. Angoulvent, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 1933, no. 77.
A. Fourreau, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 1941, p. 14.
M.-L. Bataille & G. Wildenstein, Berthe Morisot, Catalogue raisonné des peintures, pastels et aquarelles, Paris, 1961, p. 25, no. 26 (illustrated pl. 20).
J.P. Dauriac, 'Exposition: Les Impressionistes et leurs précurseurs', in Panthéon, July 1972, vol. XXX, no. 4 (illustrated p. 336).
J-D. Rey, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 1982 (illustrated in colour on the cover).
C.F. Stuckey, exh. cat., Berthe Morisot, Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1987, p. 48 (illustrated fig. 28).
S. Monneret, L'impressionnisme et son époque: dictionnaire international, vol. I, Paris, 1987, p. 58.
J-J. Lévêque, Les Années Impressionnistes, Paris, 1990, p. 225 (illustrated).
T.J. Edelstein, Perspectives on Morisot, New York, 1990, no. 106.
A. Higonnet, Berthe Morisot's Image of Women, Cambridge, 1992 (illustrated pl. 1).
A. Clairet, D. Montalant and Y. Rouart, Berthe Morisot, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Montolivet, 1997, no. 26 (illustrated p. 126).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Berthe Morisot (Madame Eugène Manet): Exposition de son oeuvre, March 1896, no. 51.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Exposition Berthe Morisot, 1961, no. 5.
Paris, Galerie Schmit, Les Impressionnistes et leurs précurseurs, May - June 1972, no. 48 (illustrated p. 66).
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Lot Essay

Painted in 1872, Intérieur is suffused with an informal and deeply Impressionist air. This historical picture, which later would come to play an important part in Morisot's participation with the Impressionists as well as in the movement's patronage in the Nineteenth Century, breathes with an air of contemplation and of informality, precisely the qualities that led to the artist being celebrated as one of the foremost of the entire movement. Indeed, in terms jaded to the modern eye, critics and advocates of the avant garde during the 1800s would refer to Morisot as the quintessential Impressionist, claiming that her status as a female artist gave her an advantage in being more receptive to the superficial scenes, sensations and impressions that characterised the movement's art. As is clear in Intérieur, Morisot's status as a frontrunner in the movement was due not to her being a woman, but to her being a formidable and innovative artist in her own right.

This innovation was clear already in the loose, Impressionistic brushstrokes with which she has painted Intérieur, filling it with a spontaneity and sense of vibrant light and life. At this time, she was one of a handful of artists who had adopted such techniques, and indeed it was partly through his exposure to Morisot's works during this period that her friend-- and future brother-in-law-- Manet adopted a looser style.

Here, the scene appears to show two of Morisot's sisters, as well as a girl who is probably her niece Paule, whose back is turned, and who is seen from a similar angle with her aunt Edma Pontillon, the middle Morisot sister, in Dame et enfant au balcon of the same period. In fact, it is hard to tell which sister is which-- whether the one with the little girl is Paule's mother, Yves Gobillard, or Edma, perhaps even with her own daughter Jeanne. At this time, Edma had only recently given birth to her second child. She was particularly close to Berthe Morisot, as the two had shared their love of art and of painting, not least during the lessons they had shared with their various teachers including Corot. Certainly, the family likeness means that the features of Edma so crisply recorded in Berthe's famous painting Le berceau appear similar to both older figures in Intérieur, although more particularly the one in the background.

There is a markedly informal air to Intérieur that heightens the sense that we have been granted invisible access to an un-posed glimpse of life among the Morisot family, not least the brief view that we are given of the sitter and her tender, beguiling melancholy or wistfulness. This is reminiscent of the spontaneous quality of her friend Degas' images of supposedly unguarded subjects. The picture is filled with the intimate air of a stolen moment, a snapshot in which the main model is lost in her thoughts, unaware that she is being watched. This informality is increased by the bustle in the background, with a child walking away from the artist. In itself, the viewing of a figure from behind was another device that Manet is thought to have adopted from Morisot. The picture, despite its air of spontaneity and the impression of a lack of composition or planned modelling, makes use of many devices that add to its internal drama - there is a still life leaning against a wall introducing a picture-within-a-picture concept; there is the contrast between inner and outer areas, with the world beyond the French windows only hinted at; and, while it may not count as an artistic device, the empty chair next to the main sitter adds a gentle poignancy, a sense of expectation or even of mournfulness to Intérieur.

Despite the clear success of Intérieur in capturing an air of spontaneous informality, Morisot held grave and unfounded doubts over the value and success of her oeuvre. Years later, she would write that she had not sought glory or posterity, but instead, 'to capture something that passes, oh, something, the smallest of things. Eh bien, even this ambition is excessive' (Morisot, quoted in M. Angoulvent, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 1933, pp. 96-97). As is clear in Intérieur, this ambition was far from excessive - the picture is filled with a transience that makes it all the more engaging and that lends it the sense that it is a painting of truth. Despite this, Morisot was not the only one to have doubts about her work, and these were later emphasised by the establishment: Intérieur appears to have been the painting that she submitted to the Salon the year of its execution and refused, prompting her friend and suitor Puvis de Chavannes to write, 'How long is needed for old-fashioned, conventional eyes to bear frank, innocent natural light?' (Puvis de Chavannes, quoted in C.F. Stuckey & W.P. Scott, Berthe Morisot: Impressionist, London, 1987, p. 49).

That not all people were as narrow-minded as the Salon is reflected in Intérieur's later success when it appeared in the posthumous retrospective organised the year after the artist's death at the Galerie Durand-Ruel. There, it was one of several paintings lent to the exhibition by Tadamara Hayashi. Having been a student in Paris, Hayashi became involved in the trade of Japanese antiques, and this exposed him to many of the Impressionists who sometimes paid for prints and other objects with paintings rather than money. Hayashi also became an important advocate of the Impressionists on the international scene, promoting them both in his native Japan and in the United States of America. Hayashi, during his lifetime, built up a formidable collection of works that he had intended to bequeath to Japan, but died before he could put his wishes in motion.

Intérieur had, however, left his collection before his death, instead coming into the possession of Eugène Blot, who began as a collector and then found himself, after 1906, also dealing in Impressionist paintings. Blot's 1900 sale, in which Intérieur was offered, also featured works by Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Blot's devotion to the cause of the Impressionists was demonstrated by his founding, with colleagues and friends, a fund-raising society aiming to support the Musée du Luxembourg, to which so many works from the movement had been donated and bequeathed.

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