French artist Berthe Morisot, a founding member of Impressionism, was known for her distinctive, ‘unfinished’ painting style. Her ingenuity is now widely celebrated, a testament to her determination to pursue an artistic career at a time when her work was often overshadowed by that of her male contemporaries. The focus of this year’s Annual Appeal, La Broderie, 1889, will be the first by a female Impressionist painter to join the NGV Collection.
Impressionism is synonymous with spontaneity: swift, visible brushstrokes; the deft capturing of light; the masterly depiction of the fleeting minutiae of ordinary life. For generations, this artistic movement has captured the hearts of many for its exuberance and its bold ability to present a completely new take on familiar subjects. The Impressionists consisted of familiar names like Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro, as well as others such as French painter Berthe Morisot. Though less well known than her male counterparts, Morisot was no less accomplished.
In a time when painting was considered a valuable endeavour for young unmarried women, alongside other pursuits like embroidery and playing the piano, Morisot remained committed to her career as an artist for over thirty years. More than a century after her death in 1895, her standing as an important member of the Impressionist movement was recognised through the sale of her portrait Après le déjeuner (After lunch), 1881, in 2013, which held the record for the most expensive work by a female artist ever sold until 2014, when a work by American artist Georgia O’Keefe sold for more.
Reflecting on Morisot’s early life, her pathway to painting demonstrates her determination. In 1857, when she was sixteen, Morisot began drawing lessons, like many young women from wealthy families. Her passion for drawing and painting flourished and as she steadily became more serious about her artistic future, she undertook training from established painters and developed her skills through visits to the Louvre in Paris, studying the work of long-revered artists such as Raphael and Rubens. In 1860, declaring she wanted to paint outdoors like other young painters at the time, Morisot began experimenting with colour and composition and started painting landscapes en plein air. Over the next few years, Morisot continued to move in Parisian artistic circles and developed her professional contacts. In 1869, the artist was introduced to the influential Impressionist circle by Édouard Manet, her close friend, mentor and eventual brother-in-law through Morisot’s marriage to Eugène Manet.
Like many Impressionist painters, Morisot was committed to capturing the light through paint and was unique in her approach. La Broderie, 1889, exemplifies Morisot’s take on Impressionism and reflects the reality of society’s expectations at the time. While determined to be emancipated from societal expectations, Morisot was required, due to her marriage to Manet, to balance her role as homemaker, mother and artist. In La Broderie Morisot depicts a familiar interior scene within her own home, using her daughter Julie and niece Alice as models as they sew. As well as her clever ability to depict movement, Morisot also shifted notions of traditional portraiture through her work, as her compositions were often informal and highlighted the close relationships between subjects. This is clear in La Broderie through the sitters’ poses and setting, as well as the movement within the scene, created through Morisot’s signature light, broad brushstrokes.
As galleries and art museums around the world seek to balance their collections with historical works of significance by women artists, it is rare to have an opportunity to acquire a work by one of the world’s most sought-after Impressionist painters. To coincide with two exclusive Impressionist exhibitions at the NGV, She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism and the 2021 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition French Impressionism from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the NGV is seeking support to acquire La Broderie through the 2021 NGV Annual Appeal.
With your support, La Broderie will be the first Berthe Morisot painting held in an Australian public collection and the first work by a female French Impressionist to enter the NGV Collection, expanding our holdings of significant Impressionist works for future generations. The NGV sincerely thanks Barry Janes and Paul Cross, Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family, Betsy Polasek and Mavourneen Cowen for their leadership gifts towards this remarkable painting. We warmly invite you to make a contribution to the 2021 NGV Annual Appeal and help the Gallery bring Berthe Morisot’s La Broderie into the NGV Collection. As a public collection that belongs to all of the community, we welcome donations of all sizes to make this acquisition possible.