A Family Affair: Timelining Morisot & Manet

I grew up around Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet’s works–the Art Institute of Chicago has a lovely collection, and almost as long as I can remember I’ve loved Morisot’s Woman at her Toilette, which hangs in the Impressionist gallery on the second floor of the AIC. I couldn’t say quite what draws me to her, but all my life I’ve stood before that lady, wondering at her secrets, hoping for a glimpse into her heart, and her life, and her very painted soul. So, when I had the chance to tell the story of Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet’s emotional affair and their intricately interwoven families. He encouraged her to marry his brother; she did. He left little mementos of their love in his paintings–for those who knew where to look.1 And, of course, the paternity of the boy he raised as his son was a Family Secret–which the kid didn’t even find out until he registered for the draft.2 Clearly, they’re the best kind of family story to tell.

The repainted painting: Berthe Morisot’s Reading, with (unwanted) help from Édouard Manet. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Reader, I Timelined them. Their timeline lives at Impressionism, and can also be directly accessed at Once Upon a Time: A Family Affair. I’ve chosen highlights (or lowlights) of their intersecting lives, alongside the art that they created. Nonetheless, Once Upon a Time is only the highlights of their lives. Berthe and Édouard, like any self-respecting pair of lovers, had their spats. The Impressionist Eva Gonzalès, Édouard’s student, was a frequent presence in fights and comparisons (Berthe was jealous of her; Manet stoked her jealousies, and, no doubt, his ego as well).3 Even worse than the existence of Mlle. Gonzalès, Édouard liked to correct things: he once charged in and started repainting Berthe’s Reading, much to Berthe’s fury (though her mother didn’t care).4 But the spats didn’t last, and when Berthe married Eugène she did so on Édouard’s advice. (Maybe Édouard was looking for someone to take care of his lover? Though, unfortunately for him, Eugène was evidently a little loopy himself.)5 And, when Édouard died (complications from advanced syphilis), Berthe grieved–and felt tremendous guilt upon Eugène’s death. (The Manets didn’t have good luck with longevity.)

New Mapping manet-morisot-copy
a family tree, of sorts

Since their family life was a little complicated, I’ve made this handy-dandy family tree, created using Tufts University’s VUE software. It’s a little simplistic–Berthe and Édouard likely never got past the emotional side of things–but it helps lay out ye olde unhappy artistic family, and makes the timeline make a little more sense. Since it’s way too small for anyone to read, I recommend clicking directly on the image–it will take you to a considerably more reader-friendly version of the family tree.

Now that they are gone their souls are paint and canvas, their lives, scandalous and syphilitic and tragic, remembered in the art history classroom and, often, not in the museum. But their old affairs are waiting for us, if only we know how to see a pair of violets tucked into a black dress, or can read the glint in a painted eye.

Bibliography/Suggested Reading


Meyers, Jeffrey. Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt. Orlando: Harcourt, 2005. Print.


Anderson, Jill. “The Meaning Beyond the Dress: Alterity and Economy of Desire in Mallarmé’s Berthe Morisot.” French Studies 60.1 (2006): 33-48. Oxford Journals. doi: 10.1093/fs/kni286

Bernheimer, Charles. “Manet’s Olypmia: The Figuration of Scandal.” Poetics Today 10.2 (1989): 255-277. JSTOR.

Chapman, Ian. “Luncheon on the Grass with Manet and Bow Wow Wow: Still Disturbing After All These Years.” Music in Art, 35.1/2 (2010): 95-104. JSTOR.

Flescher, Sharon. “More on a Name: Manet’s ‘Olympia’ and the Defiant Heroine in Mid-Ninteenth-Century France.” Art Journal 45.1 (1998): 27-35. JSTOR.

Kessler, Marni R. “Unmasking Manet’s Morisot.” The Art Bulletin 81.3 (1999): 473-489. JSTOR.

Læssøe, Rolf. “Édouard Manet’s Le Déjuner sur l’herbe as a Veiled Allegory of Painting.” Artibus et Historiae, 26:51 (2005): 195-220. JSTOR.

Moffitt, John F. “Provacative Felinity in Manet’s Olympia.” Source: Notes in the History of Art, 14.1 (1994): 21-31. JSTOR.

Dissertations & Theses

I have provided links to ProQuest/UMI dissertations, from which one may purchase a dissertation. However, if you are interested in reading a dissertation and are affiliated with a library of any kind, including a public library, it is to your advantage to ask about the possibility of interlibrary loan prior to purchasing the dissertation.

Kent, Lesley Shannon. Berthe Morisot and the French Impressionists: A Circle of Friends. Thesis. California State University Dominguez Hills, 2008. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2008. 1466428.

Lehmbeck, Leah Rosenblatt. Edouard Manet’s Portraits of Women. Diss. New York University, 2007. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2007. 3269792.

Schwartz, Priscilla Ann. Manet’s Depicitions of Women in Cafés: The Ambiguity of Reality in Modern Parisian Life. Diss. Rutgers, 1994. Ann Arbor: UMI, n.d. 9431132.

1 Kessler, “Unmasking Manet’s Morisot,” 478: violets as token of love.
2 Meyers, Impressionist Quartet, 17, 20.
3 Meyers, Impressionist Quartet, 104-106, Kent, Berthe Morisot and the French Impressionists, 10.
4 Meyers, Impressionist Quartet, 105-106
5 Meyers, Impressionist Quartet, 117

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