The Story of French Impressionism, Part VI: Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was one of the key female figures of French Impressionism.

Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets (1872) By: Édouard Manet – she often posed for Manet, this time in mourning for the death of her father.

Like the other artists of the time, she began her career vying for a spot at the annual Salon in Paris with early landscape paintings, and eventually pursuing the Impressionist style. She was featured at the famous first Impressionist public exhibition in 1874, and from then on only featured her work with the Impressionists -she only missed the 1878 exhibition to give birth to her daughter.

She came from an upper-crust bourgeois family, and as a consequence, she received a formal, private education. As part of her education, she was schooled in traditional forms of art. She started as a copyist in the Louvre, and gradually evolved into an independent painter. She met Édouard Manet in the 1860s and married his brother.

Grain Fields (1875)

The Harbor at Lorient (1869)

Reading (1873)

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight (1875) – a portrait featuring her husband, Manet’s brother.

Berthe Morisot - Sommertag - 1879.jpegSummer’s Day (1879) -the painting employs an unusual color palette and shows two women in a rowboat. There is an amusing story about how two Irish students stole the painting from the Tate in London, and it was eventually left anonymously at the Irish embassy.

Morisot died in 1895 while tending to her daughter’s pneumonia, leaving her only daughter, Julie, alone at age 16.


Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was actually an American artist from Pennsylvania who spent much of her time in France. She was descended from was descended from a wealthy family who successfully speculated with stock market investments. Despite her parent’s objections she moved to Paris to study art.

Self-Portrait (1890)

During the Franco-Prussian War, which upended many artist’s careers in France, she returned to the United States. She lived with her parents for a spell before moving to Chicago, only for much of her artwork at the time to be destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Around this time, she started receiving commissions and she returned to Europe. She had a tempestuous relationship with the conventions of the Salon in Paris, and she was critical of the expectations for women artists (she was known for her strong opinions and sharp tongue).

Cassatt had a fond relationship with fellow Impressionist painter, Edgar Degas. They even shared adjacent studio spaces in Paris, however there is little evidence that their relationship was romantic.

Mary Cassatt Seated, Holding Cards (1880–1884) By: Edgar Degas

Much of her popular works are focused on the themes of motherhood and children. She was inspired by the wave of feminism that took hold in America in the 1840s, with the “New Woman” and the opening of co-educational and women’s colleges. She was a pro-suffragist, while some of her extended female family members were not. Like other Impressionists, she drew inspiration from Japanese wood blocks, particularly for her her most famous piece “The Child’s Bath”:

Mary Cassatt - The Child's Bath - Google Art Project.jpgThe Child’s Bath (1893) -the painting displays the depth and heroism of everyday motherhood. Along with Japanese woodcuts, the painting was also inspired by Degas’s form and composition. They were both interested primarily in figure composition.

Mary Cassatt - The Boating Party - Google Art Project.jpg
The Boating Party (1893-1894) -the setting takes place along the French Riviera with an unknown family featured.

Summertime (1894)

Mother and Child Before A Pool (1898)

Under The Horse Chestnut Tree (1898)

In her later years, Mary Cassatt went nearly blind and suffered from a variety of other ailments. She died in 1926 near Paris.

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