Berthe Morisot’s Garden

Berthe Morisot: “Woman in a Garden” (1882-83)

This lovely Berthe Morisot painting once traveled from Chicago to Paris, just like me. It was included in the Berthe Morisot Exhibit at Musée Marmottan in 2012.  It had been loaned out by The Art Institute of Chicago.

This exhibit represented the first major retrospective of Berthe Morisot’s work in over 40 years. There were over 150 works, including paintings, pastels, watercolors and drawings, gathered from museums and private collections all over the world. Some you might have seen before, whether at the Marmottan or the Musée D’Orsay, but there were some you may never have the chance to see again. The effect of seeing so many of her works together, in such a beautiful setting, is just plain stunning. Once in a lifetime perhaps.

But the exhibit offered much more than that. Together, Morisot’s collected works told the story of this remarkable woman’s life, from her earliest years as a copyist at the Louvre to her final years as a celebrated Impressionist and devoted mother.

In the Exhibition Catalogue you can find the details of Morisot’s life right alongside her paintings, all in chronological order. You can follow Morisot as she moves from home to home in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, from her parents’ homes at 12 and 16 rue Franklin, to her last home as a widow at 10 rue Weber. Aside from her travels and her summers in suburban Paris, she spent her entire life in the 16th.

In fact, Morisot painted Woman in a Garden during the period she lived on rue Villejust, now known as rue Paul Valéry. Her home still stands today, with the same garden that she once could have painted in.

Morisot lived at 40 rue Villejust (40 rue Paul Valéry) from 1883-1893, during her marriage to Edouard Manet’s brother Eugene. They lived on the first floor and her mother-in-law lived on the second floor. Morisot hosted weekly salons where the Impressionists hung out. As Renoir’s son Jean said in his father’s biography: “In Berthe Morisot’s day the Manet circle had been one of the most authentic centers of civilized Parisian life. . . . It was not just intellectuals one met at Berthe Morisot’s, but simply good company. . . . Berthe Morisot acted like a special kind of magnet on people, attracting only the genuine. She had a gift for smoothing rough edges. ‘Even Degas was more civil when with her.’ “

After her husband Eugene died in 1893, Morisot and her daughter Julie moved out of the rue Villejust home.  In 1900, Morisot’s niece Jeannie Gobillard and her new husband, the French poet Paul Valéry, moved in.

rue Villejust was eventually renamed rue Paul Valéry. It is located in the northern part of the 16th arrondissement, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.

This was once Berthe Morisot’s private garden. It resembles the setting for Woman in a Garden, but Morisot also spent time at a suburban country home, so we do not know if this was the setting for the painting. I would like to think so, because, well, I was there. When the construction on the house was completed in 1893, Morisot’s husband planted the flowers and plants in the garden.

I love the green lattices in French courtyards. They certainly make for a beautiful background in Morisot’s painting.

I must admit I was a little disappointed with the historical marker at 40 rue Paul Valéry. Its only reference to Berthe Morisot? Paul Valéry married her niece. That’s it. Every other line is devoted to Valéry.

Berthe Morisot, Self-Portrait (1885). Morisot would have painted this in her home on rue Villejust, where she had no separate art studio. She managed to balance her career with motherhood by merging her home life and her painting life.

I admire Morisot’s skill and patience in being able to capture these busy girls (her daughter Julie age 8 and the concierge’s daughter, Marthe Givaudan) playing with goldfish in a valuable bowl, which was a treasured gift from Morisot’s brother-in-law Edouard Manet. The home as studio, yet a comfortable place where kids can be kids and mothers can be painters.

More photos and posts will follow from my Berthe Morisot tour of the 16th. There are no more historical markers, but there is plenty of art history. I hope you’ll follow along.

Paris Artists Walking Tour: The Impressionists’ Paris

 The Impressionists’ Paris by Ellen Williams (The Little Bookroom, 1997) is a wonderful little travel guide for art lovers in Paris. It offers three separate walking tours of some of the Impressionists’ art studios, homes and painting sites.

The first walk in the book takes you to the area around the Louvre and the Seine, over bridges known as Le Pont Neuf or Le Pont Des Arts to the Left Bank area near L’Ecole des Beaux Arts.

The young Impressionists would have spent much of their time in this area in the 1860’s, honing their skills by copying the paintings and sculpture inside the Louvre, and by studying under established artists at various ateliers in the city. If you were male (women were not accepted until 1897, and only then after years of bitter disputes) you hoped to be admitted to the finest art school in Paris, L’Ecole des Beaux Arts.

Unlike the female artists of the Impressionist era, I was able to walk right through the gates of L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. I was overwhelmed by its impressive surroundings, from the outdoor courtyard to a massive interior hall with a glass ceiling. There were several printmaking classes underway at the time of my visit, and the air smelled of ink and paint thinner, the happy scent of art in the making.
















Just across the street a few doors north of the entrance to L’Ecole des Beaux Arts is the birthplace of Edouard Manet, which is commemorated with a historical plaque (the street was known as rue des Petits Augustins until Napoleon III renamed it in 1852). Manet is recognized as the leader of the Impressionists. When you see where he lived, you understand how he grew up completely surrounded by art.









The next stop on the walking tour is the studio of Frederic Bazille at 20 rue Visconti, just a block away from L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1867, Bazille invited his friends Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet to paint with him in his studio. It has been immortalized in such paintings as Bazille’s The Artist’s Studio, Rue Visconti, Paris, 1867. Walking down this old narrow street in the fading afternoon light made me feel like there might have been a few friendly ghosts at my side.

And of course, to finish off the walking tour, I had to stop at Cafe La Palette, 43 rue de Seine, for a glass of wine and a little rest. Although La Palette doesn’t date back as far as the Impressionist era, it has been a local haunt for generations of art students since the turn of the century. I just wish I’d thought to bring a sketch pad to  memorialize it. I guess I’ll just have to go back!
The Impressionists’ Paris is a wonderful little guidebook with easy-to-follow maps as well as helpful cafe and restaurant recommendations. There are two more walking tours in the book besides this one: one for the Montmartre area and one along the Grand Boulevards. Pick this book up at your local independent bookstore and enjoy planning your own trip in the footsteps of the Impressionists. And let me know if you too can sense the ghosts.