TRAVEL HERE: IMPRESSIONS OF WOMEN
Women artists have been in the spotlight at the DMA this year. The first few months of the year, Ida O’Keefe’s work was featured and I thoroughly enjoyed the peek into this woman’s portfolio. Unfortunately, her art was overshadowed by her more famous sister, a sister who tried to shove her out of the limelight. Reaching back to a pivotal player in the Impressionist movement, the DMA is now offering up selections from the portfolio of Berthe Morisot. This exhibition reveals it was the male critics of the time who tried to shove a woman artist into the shadows. Let’s think about that.
Before getting to Morisot, I’d just like to say thank you to the DMA, for offering up such delectable exhibitions as O’Keefe and Morisot. I’ll admit, I was on the brink of not renewing my DMA membership when the Berthe Morisot exhibition was announced. I fell in love with my museum through exhibitions like Pompeii and Shogun. I hurried to the edifice every time there was an Impressionist show and cried as I added to my personal visual catalog of Van Gogh’s. I’ve raved all over the world about our Reves Collection and touted our Dallas Museums of Art theory offered by Rick Brettell. I’ve haunted shows like Jean Paul Gaultier and Tut with visit after visit, dragging in anyone I could bring.
In recent years, however, I’ve felt a little betrayed. It’s been Contemporary after Modern after Pop after Modern after Contemporary. Some of it I’ve enjoyed, like Cindy Sherman’s photography, but most of it just wasn’t gorgeous – and as I’ve said before, I’m into gorgeous. The last time I was really wowed was back in 2014, when they mounted the exhibition on Nineteenth Century French Florals. Meanwhile, their counterparts over in Fort Worth, the Kimbell, offered one gorgeous show after another.
When I saw Morisot’s name, I knew someone, somewhere had heard my lament. I didn’t need every single show to match my personal taste, but I did need some breadcrumbs. 2018 had a few less than dark spots, but it was Morisot who kept me renewing. Then I met a friend for lunch at the DMA and there it was, the Ida O’Keefe exhibit. I’m a big fan of Georgia, so it took me a few moments to dial in the fact that I wasn’t looking at her work, but at her sister’s. I made several trips to the museum to oooh and aaah over the exhibit and said a prayer to the art gods to keep the gorgeous coming.
My prayers were answered in spades. Berthe Morisot’s work is delightful. When most Americans think of female Impressionists, they think of Mary Cassatt and because she was an American, we know a whole lot more about her. However, Morisot was also in the thick of things. She was married to Eugene Manet, brother to painter Edouard Manet, but don’t think she was dragged to fame by his coattails. She was in her own right an important contributor to the Impressionist movement.
The demands of society at the time limited the scope of her subjects, but not her creativity. her lovely pastel impressions of the world around her show a keen eye and a sure stroke. As keen and sharp as any of the other Impressionists, but received by the critics with significant bias. There’s a great infographic on one of the walls of the show. It juxtaposes one of Morisot’s paintings with two of the other giants of the Impressionist movement, but their painters were men. All three pictures of are women in domestic scenes, but while the men are recognized for boldness and creativity, the critics call her painting charming and sweet.
While her work is charming, she was also pushing the envelope. If you’ll notice in the picture of the woman in the gray dress above, Morisot did not take the paint to the edges of the canvas. While the rest of the world was carefully covering every inch of canvas in paint, she experimented with incorporating unfinished portions of the canvas into the finished work. She was accused of losing interest and not finishing the pieces, but it was not neglect. It was a method she incorporated over and over again.
At first, she seemed used the trick on the edges of the painting, but she became bolder, using bare canvas in the center of her subjects’ faces as if to say, “I’m doing this on purpose. The woman in the hat demonstrates this tactic.
I must be honest, I find the bare places in the center of the paintings a little distracting, but I admire her pioneering spirit. Nowadays, we see paintings with the canvas coming through all the time. When you do see it, thank Berthe Morisot.
I love this show and have already seen it several times. I hope you’ll go, too. If you love gorgeous, you’ll love it. I’ll leave you with one last piece by Morisot, which was perhaps my favorite, but that’s hard to say when there were so many I completely adored. Like Van Gogh and so many of the artists we now love, Berthe didn’t sell much while she was alive. Most of her paintings were in the hands of family and friends. I’m so glad she has been rescued from those hands and put on the walls of museums, where people like me can enjoy them.