Yesterday, I spent the late morning and afternoon with friends, some of whom I had not seen in years. Friends who I lived with every Tuesday evening for what seemed to be decades. We shared our souls and stories and creative efforts. Unity was one of them. She wrote a moving grand tale of the artist Berthe Morisot’s climb out of the misogyny during the Impressionist era of painting.
I can still hear Unity’s voice describing the lacuanae of Morisot’s life. The painter created a sense of space and depth through the use of color. Although her color palette was somewhat limited, her fellow impressionists regarded her as a member of their group. Like many daughters of the bourgoise, she and sister Edma received an arts education. Berthe created landscapes and still lifes, domestic scenes and portraits. While not a victim of sexism per se, Morisot, like many male artists, set out on a quest for perfection. Her mother Marie-Cornélie wrote to Morisot in 1867, “I have never seen you choose something that is within your reach.” As a young woman, Morisot destroyed many of her own paintings.
Unity captured the torment of the young artist in her admiration/confused love for Monsieur Claude Monet. In her novel, Unity portrayed Berthe as perhaps in love with Monsieur Monet, but Morisot decided to marry his brother, Eugene. A stable intention; she had a lovely family with him while painting a trove of amazing portraits and still lifes and gardens.
About three years ago I visited Paris and the Musee D’Orsay. The museum had organized the first total exhibition of Berthe Morisot art ever. Seven salons bursting with all episodes of her paintings! I had an assignment for the writing workshop I attended. The usual “go stare at a painting and write about it.” I spent three hours inhaling all of Morisot’s interpretation of female impressionism. As I walked through the rooms, I could hear Unity reading her pages of her novel over my shoulder. Unity was there. I so wished I had the manuscript back at the hotel to read afterward. It was a surreal and memorable experience.
[BTW, John, condolances for your wife so many years ago. After all the workshops, I didn’t know your sadness. So sorry.]