Berthe Morisot (January 14, 1841 – March 2, 1895) was one two only two women associated with the Impressionist movement. She was a student of both Camille Corot and Eduard Manet; she later married Manet’s brother Eugène. She was no mere female appendage, however, allowed to play with the big boys on sufferance. She shaped their ideas, particularly in the use of color, as much as she was shaped by them.
Morisot was born into an affluent family and this allowed her the luxury of living from her art. She was the great-niece of Fragonard, the rococo painter. She incorporated her extended family into many of her paintings and capitalized on family vacations to set up her easel en plein air. It was she who encouraged Manet to experiment with painting outdoors and introduced him to the other Impressionists. She first showed paintings at the prestigious Paris Salon when she was only twenty-three. The painting above, Le Berceau (The Cradle), shows her sister, Edma gazing at her sleeping newborn. Such scenes of quiet domesticity were typical of Morisot’s work.
Today’s expression, cherchez la femme, (share-shay lah fam) literally means « look for the woman » and is usually used to imply that a woman is behind some event, often in a negative sense. If one looked for the woman among the Impressionists, however, one would find the fine quality paintings of Berthe Morisot.