The Subtle World of Berthe Morisot: Impressions under Manet’s Brush

Subtle World of Berthe Morisot


“Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets,” painted by Édouard Manet in 1872, stands as one of the most captivating portraits of the 19th century. This painting, more than just a simple portrait, captures the essence of the subject’s character and the complexity of her role in the art world. In this article, we delve into the subtleties of this masterpiece, exploring how Manet’s depiction of Berthe Morisot offers deep insights into both the artist and the model.

This painting is not only significant for its artistic beauty but also for what it represents about the relationship between Manet and Morisot, and their place in the art world. Through a detailed examination, we aim to explore the layers of meaning in this intimate portrayal.

Historical Context

To fully appreciate Manet’s portrayal of Berthe Morisot, it’s crucial to understand the context in which this painting was created. The late 19th century was a period of significant change in the art world, with the emergence of Impressionism challenging traditional artistic norms. Berthe Morisot herself was an important figure in this movement, known for her delicate and light-filled paintings.

Manet, often regarded as a precursor to Impressionism, was at the forefront of this shift. His relationship with Morisot was not just personal but also deeply artistic, with mutual influence evident in their works. This painting of Morisot is a testament to their complex and intertwined artistic journey.

Description of the Painting

In “Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets,” Manet captures the essence of Morisot’s personality. The portrait is intimate, with Morisot appearing contemplative and slightly reserved. The use of light and shadow plays a crucial role in the painting, highlighting her features and the thoughtful expression in her eyes.

The choice of colors and the loose brushwork are characteristic of Manet’s style and contribute to the overall impressionistic feel of the painting. The bouquet of violets Morisot holds is not just a decorative element; it adds depth to the portrait, symbolizing both the delicacy and complexity of her character.

Artistic Techniques and Innovations

Manet’s technique in this painting is a blend of realism and impressionism. His brushstrokes are bold yet delicate, creating a sense of immediacy and intimacy. The painting breaks away from the traditional portrait style, offering a more candid and less formal depiction of the subject.

The composition of the painting is also noteworthy. Morisot is positioned off-center, which, combined with the gaze that does not directly meet the viewer’s, adds to the sense of an informal, fleeting moment captured on canvas. This approach reflects Manet’s interest in capturing the essence of modern life, with all its complexities and subtleties.

Deeper Analysis of Morisot’s Representation

The representation of Berthe Morisot in Manet’s painting is significant for its depth and complexity. Manet does not just capture Morisot’s physical appearance but also conveys a sense of her inner life and personality. Her thoughtful expression and the introspective gaze suggest a world of thought behind her serene exterior. This portrayal is indicative of Manet’s ability to capture not just the likeness but the essence of his subjects.

Moreover, the painting can be seen as a reflection of Morisot’s own identity as an artist. At a time when female artists were not easily accepted in the male-dominated art world, Morisot’s composed and confident demeanor in the portrait speaks to her strength and determination. The subtle interplay of light and shadow in the painting further enhances this portrayal, emphasizing Morisot’s complexity as both a woman and an artist.

Symbolism and Artistic Context

The use of symbolism in “Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets” adds layers of meaning to the painting. The violets, for instance, are more than just a floral accessory; they symbolize modesty and depth, traits often associated with Morisot’s character and art. The choice of attire and the informal pose also contribute to the painting’s narrative, depicting Morisot as both a part of and apart from the conventional social norms of her time.

This painting must also be viewed in the broader context of Manet’s work and the Impressionist movement. Manet’s approach to portraiture, characterized by a focus on modern subjects and a departure from traditional techniques, was groundbreaking. His portrayal of Morisot fits into this larger narrative of artistic innovation, representing a shift towards a more personal and subjective form of art.

Influence and Legacy

“Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets” holds a significant place in the history of art, not only as a masterpiece of portraiture but also as a document of the evolving roles of women in the art world. The painting influenced the course of Impressionism and portraiture, inspiring artists to pursue more intimate and candid representations.

The legacy of the painting extends beyond its immediate impact. It continues to be celebrated for its artistic merit and as a symbol of the changing perceptions of women in the 19th century. The painting stands as a tribute to the enduring friendship and mutual influence between Manet and Morisot, two pivotal figures in the Impressionist movement.


Édouard Manet’s “Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets” is a profound work that captures the essence of its subject while reflecting the artistic and social currents of its time. Through this portrait, Manet not only pays homage to a fellow artist but also explores themes of identity, representation, and the role of women in the art world. The painting remains a powerful testament to Manet’s skill as a portraitist and his visionary approach to art, capturing the subtle world of Berthe Morisot in a way that is both intimate and profound.