Berthe Morisot (1841 Bourges - 1895 Paris)
Oil on canvas ; 50.4 x 61.2 cm
New York, Sara Jane Pansa collection ; New York, Christie's, 16th May 1985 ; New York, Martin S. Weseley collection ; New York, Sotheby's, 15th May 2018.
Madame Eugène Manet, exhibition of her work (Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, 1896, no. 114) ; Berthe Morisot (Paris, Galerie Druet, 1905, no. 17).
Marie-Louise Bataille, Georges Wildenstein, Berthe Morisot, catalogue des peintures, pastels et aquarelles, Paris, Les Beaux-Arts, 1961, no. 202 ; Alain Clairet et al., Berthe Morisot, 1841-1895, catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Montolivet, CÉRA-nrs, no. 206 (reproduced).
Berthe Morisot, prematurely deceased at the age of 54, was the contemporary of Renoir and of Monet by just a few months. Even though she participated in all the exhibitions of the Impressionist group (except in 1879), this woman artist has not yet found the place she deserves in art history. Influenced by Corot at first, then close to Manet since she married his brother Eugène, and finally to Renoir, her vivacious and luminous style makes her their equal, discreet and original.
Her landscapes are rare and most often one or two silhouettes are represented in the foreground. Hence the interest, as well as the charm and freedom of this painting of a spring morning in the Bois de Boulogne, in which the figures are kept in the background. Berthe Morisot lived in rue de Villejust (today rue Paul Valéry, who, later, married the painter's niece), in a building constructed by her in-law family in this newly urbanized area, close to the Bois, arranged "in the English style" under Napoléon III.
A review of the prefaces of her first two personal exhibitions is of interest here : the first one, in 1892 at galerie Boussod-Valadon, and the other one in 1896 (a year after her death) at galerie Durand-Ruel. The first critic, Gustave Geffroy, who published his Histoire de l'Impressionnisme the same year, spoke poetically of "her blue softness and her green ash". The second author, no less than Stéphane Mallarmé (a close friend who was also the tutor of her daughter Julie Manet), wrote about the "fury and nonchalance" of her painting. These are exactly the colors and the touch which we find in this artwork. The fury of the painter can be felt in the foreground, where one can hardly distinguish two women leaving to the left. Her nonchalance is there as well, in the silhouettes painted in the background, either on horseback or sitting on a bench. Precisely here, in the center of gravity of the painting, we can consider and admire how the reddish-brown saddle enlivens the whole composition : an echo of Corot.
In Berthe Morisot's Carnets, one can find these words : "The desire for glorification after my death seems to me an excessive ambition. My own ambition would be limited to my sole desire to capture something of what is passing."
Sarah Jane Pansa, née Sanford, who owned the painting until 1985, was the granddaughter of Stephen Sanford, the American "carpet king". Her golden youth, with her sister Gertrude and brother Stephen, inspired George Cukor's 1938 film Holiday. The next owner, until 2017, was Martin S. Weseley, a leading New York orthopedic surgeon and an avid collector of modern art.