Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets


“I rank none of Manet’s work more highly than a certain portrait of Berthe Morisot,”
wrote Paul Valéry, who was struck by
“the black, the pure black, the omnipotence of these blacks.”

Of all the portraits of the painter’s sister-in-law, who also features in The Balcony, this is the most thoughtful and ambitious. In his portraits, Manet usually lit his models from the front, using an even light.

Here he uses a small format, a neutral background and lights the model from the side, to such an extent that she seems to be no more than light and shadow. She gazes at us with her large, curious, inquiring eyes, with an indefinable expression. In 1932, in “Le triomphe de Manet”, a text that accompanied the Orangerie exhibition, Paul Valéry wrote:

“I can say now that the portrait I am speaking of is pure poetry. In the colors, strangely harmonic and forcefully dissonant all at once; in the contrast of the trivial, fleeting detail of a hairstyle from yesteryear with something indefinably tragic in the character’s expression, Manet gives his work great resonance, combining mystery with totally assured style.

He combines a physical resemblance to the model with a unique harmony, as befits a remarkable personality, and captures Berthe Morisot’s distinct and abstract charm.”

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