1832-1883 | FrenchBerthe Morisot: Femme Allongée sur un Canapé
Oil on canvas
Composed by perhaps the greatest Impressionist and depicting another, this oil on canvas represents an important moment in 19th-century art history. The impressive painting was composed by Edouard Manet, the de facto
leader of the Parisian avant-garde, and it depicts the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, one of the most significant female painters of the 19th century.
Manet was undoubtedly the most important figure in the Impressionist movement. Considered the elder of the group, he was already a famous artist when Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas appeared on the scene. He earned his first honorable mention at the Paris Salon as early as 1861 and made waves with his scandalous Déjeuner sur l’Herbe
, now in the Musée d’Orsay, in 1867. The first artist to paint everyday scenes of people and modern life, his paintings helped transition the art world from Realism to Impressionism in the late 19th century.
He met Berthe Morisot in 1868; though she made her debut at the 1864 Paris Salon, she was still making a name for herself and welcomed the mentorship of the great Manet. She would eventually go on to become the most important female painter in 19th-century French art, and she was the only woman to exhibit with the Impressionists at their first show in 1874.
Manet painted Morisot’s portrait on a few occasions, many of which were inspired by the works of Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Morisot’s dark features lent themselves well to the Spanish-influenced portraits, and she was often captured dressed in black, enhancing the contrast and luminosity of these compositions. The present portrait was obviously inspired by Goya’s famed Majas
nudes, though Manet's subject is clothed and sophisticated rather than seductive. Furthermore, Manet utilizes a far more momentary approach that reveals his development of and experimentation with the Impressionist style.
His brushwork lends the painting a highly modern unfinished style that typifies his output from this period. A few bold, sparse brush strokes deftly capture the angles of her face, the folds of her dress and the bedding upon which she lies. The style choice suggests the fleeting and upbeat tempo of modern life as Manet successfully updates the traditional figure of the odalisque for a new age.
Morisot herself was on the cusp of a new life when this portrait was painted. One of just two women who became members of the Impressionists, she was increasingly feeling family pressure to marry and begin a family. Just a year after this portrait was completed, she did marry Manet’s brother Eugéne, and Manet never painted her again. Therefore, this work represents one of the last portraits he ever composed of her. Today, most other Manet paintings of Morisot are in prominent museums including the Musée d'Orsay (Paris), the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid), the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille.
Manet kept this portrait of Morisot throughout his life, and it was listed in his studio's inventory after his death. The work had been promised to Manet’s neighbor Adèle d’Affry, the Duchesse Castiglione-Colonna, who was a highly acclaimed Swiss sculptor known to the art world at Marcello. Marcello also painted a handful of portraits of Morisot, and Manet often invited her to watch him paint while Morisot posed for him. It was likely during one of these sessions when Femme Allongée sur un Canapé
was promised to d’Affry, though she never took physical possession of the portrait before her death in 1879. Thus, the work was still in Manet’s estate when he died in 1883 when it was given to Adèle d’Affry’s mother, Lucie, Countess d’Affry. It eventually entered the collection of the Musée Marcello, which the late sculptor had provided for in her will, bequeathing her own works and those of her friends.
This great work is heavily documented and has also been exhibited around the country. In addition, it has a superb provenance that traces the history of the work from the day it was painted.
Wildenstein states that the figure of Morisot, the most important centerpiece of the painting, is by the hand of Manet, but the canapé was possibly finished after his death. Because of this, we are selling the painting as by Edouard Manet with parts of the background possibly finished after his death. However, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests the entire work was completed by the hand of the great Edouard Manet.
First, the painting was listed in the final inventory of paintings that were in Manet’s studio at the time of his passing. It is important to note that there were two groups of paintings listed in his estate: finished and not finished. Femme Allongée sur un Canapé
was listed with the finished works. At that time, it was photographed by Fernand Lochard, the estate photographer, and this photograph only recorded the figure of Morisot in the center field of the painting and not the lower canapé details.
According to a number of experts, it is probable that the photograph itself was defective. Lochard used a process known as the wet collodion photographic process, which often did not register the blue or brown color spectrums, accounting for the “missing” portions of paint. The same failing was discovered in other photographs from Manet’s estate, including one of the artist’s most famous works, Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère.
It is likely that the same photographic failure occurred in the inventory photo of Femme Allongée sur un Canapé
, and that the work was, in fact, completed by Manet himself. The important British conservator Dr. Nicholas Eastaugh confirmed this conclusion (Exhibit A
), while the New York Center for Photography was even able to recreate the "incomplete" results using a wet collodion camera from the period (Exhibit B
Further research supports these findings. In 1979, the painting was independently examined by W.J. Young, Director Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He concluded that all pigments date from the period when the painting was executed and that no modern pigments were found, meaning there was no evidence to indicate any portion was completed at a later date (Exhibit C
). In addition, the brush strokes were all by the same hand. Furthermore, the former Chief Conservator of the National Gallery of Art, David Bull, perhaps the most important restorer in America, also examined the painting and confirmed it was completed in one sitting by the master’s hand (Exhibit D
Based on Wildenstein, we are selling the work as by the master’s hand but completed by another. However, since it is probable that the work was done entirely by Manet himself, should Wildenstein ever revisit their attribution, the value of this stunning work of art would triple or more, making it an exceptional value.
Painted in 1873
Canvas: 20" high x 25 3/4" wide
Frame: 31 1/2" high x 37" wide
References:Testamentary Inventory of the Estate of Edouard Manet
, 1883, no. 63Photographies d’aprés les oeuvres
, Vol. 5, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, by E. Manet, p. 34
Unpublished letter, Berthe Morisot to Suzanne Manet, 1883Register of Manet’s Works
, by L. Leenhoff, no. 291Edouard Manet: Catalogue Raisonné
, Vol. 1, 1975, by Wildenstein and Rouart, p. 178, no. 210 (illustrated)Berthe Morisot Exhibition Catalogue
, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France, 2002, p. 466 (illustrated)
Exhibited:Four Centuries of European Art: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of Count Ivan N. Podgoursky
, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, October 1956Collection of Count Ivan N. Podgoursky
, Gallery of the Museum, Midwestern University, November 4-28, 1956Collection of Count Ivan N. Podgoursky
, Gallery of the Oklahoma City Art Museum, November 1957
Estate of the artist, 1883
Bequeathed to Lucie, Countess d’Affry, 1884
Musée Marcello, Fribourg, Switzerland, 1884
Charles A. Jackson Gallery, Manchester, 1937
Christies, Manson & Wood, Modern Pictures Sale, 24 July 1939, No. 116 (as Edouard Manet)John Nicholson, London, 1939
Counter Ivan Podgoursky, New York and San Antonio, 1940
By descent to Mary Podgoursky Ermolaev, 1962
Private collection, Cambridge, MA, 1979
M.S. Rau, New OrleansClick here to view a video of this item.