Happy birthday, Berthe Morisot!

Pioneering female Impressionist Berthe Morisot is celebrating her 175th birthday today!  In honor of this demisemiseptcentennial celebration (yes, I looked that term up), I am happy to share with you one of the jewels of the Dixon’s collection, Morisot’s Peasant Girl among Tulips.  

Berthe Morisot grew up in a family that encouraged her interest in art.  She saw exhibitions in Paris and received painting lessons from the great landscapist Camille Corot.  By 1864, Morisot’s work had gained acceptance at the annual Paris Salon, although she would soon reject official art for the vanguard Impressionist circle.  In 1874, she married Eugène Manet, brother of artist Édouard Manet, an influential figure in the history of Impressionism.    

In 1890, Morisot, her ailing husband, and their twelve-year-old daughter, Julie, spent half the year in Mézy, a village in the French countryside, where they hoped the fresh air would help restore Eugène’s health. Morisot painted Peasant Girl among Tulips that spring, seeing in the sturdy features of a French peasant girl, believed to be named Gabrielle Dufour, the fragile beauty of a tulip.  Morisot consciously rhymed the swirling brushwork in the girl’s unadorned dress with the swirling forms of the tulip leaves.  The wisps of hair curling away from her face are like spent tulip petals about to fall to the ground.  Even the girl’s delightful oval face is shaped like a tulip blossom.  Her hands, stained brown from working in fields, connect her to the rural French countryside, a virtuous place capable of producing lovely flowers and lovely young girls.   

The first recorded owner of Peasant Girl among Tulips was Tadamasa Hayashi, a Japanese art dealer who is often credited with introducing Japanese woodblock prints to Western Europe.  From Hayashi, the painting entered the collection of renowned art collector and connoisseur Théodore Duret, one of the most influential voices in Paris.  Duret befriended several of the leading artists of the late nineteenth century and was the subject of portraits by both Édouard Manet and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.  His Manet and the French Impressionists was one of the earliest writings on the subject, illuminating the movement for people in France as well as England and the United States.   

Peasant Girl among Tulips came into the Dixon collection in 1981, when it was purchased by our first director, Michael Milkovich.  Twenty-seven years later, in 2008, we received a special companion for this painting, a sketch of the same subject by Morisot’s daughter, Julie Manet (pictured below).  While her mother sketched and then painted this hardworking young woman, Julie, then just twelve years old, sat nearby and sketched the girl herself, using colored pencils to create a scene almost identical to that of her mother.  Employing the same technique of quickly applying soft color in bold strokes, the Impressionist progeny proved her inherent talent and sensitivity to subtle changes in color seen that made her mother so successful as an artist.    

- Julie Pierotti, Curator   

Image captions: Berthe Morisot, Peasant Girl among Tulips, 1890; Oil on canvas; Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Museum purchase, 1981.1

Julie Manet, Peasant Girl Among Tulips, 1890; Colored pencils on paper; Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Gift of Bill Scott, 2008.1.1

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