Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Manet's Muse in Black

At last I have finished - and submitted - our accounts so we can think about art and music again!  It always hangs over me like a black cloud at the turn of the year.

Talking of black, I am really looking forward to the Manet Portraits exhibition at the RA.  In 1996 we took the children to a massive Manet exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland.  There we saw the iconic portrait of Berthe Morisot, Manet's sister-in-law, in black.  It was much smaller than we expected but that is what happens when you only see reproductions in books.  Very few artists can paint with black successfully: maybe just Goya, Sargent and Manet?  Using black often kills a painting (I don't mean mixed 'blacks' of course but the stuff straight from the tube) but Manet always seemed to get away with it.

I have always loved that Morisot portrait.  She was a wonderful artist herself - like Elizabeth Thomson Butler, Mary Cassatt, Gwen John and many other women artists who had to struggle for recognition in a male-dominated profession.  Her sister Edma could perhaps have been just as successful (Paul Guichard evidently thought so) but she married Adolphe Pontillon very young and the rest as they say is history.  It is a pity too that Manet did not live long enough to paint his niece, Julie.  Her wide eyed beauty reminds me of Joanna Hiffernan, Whistler's model for 'Symphony in White' and I am sure Manet would have made his portrait of Julie an equally great example of the genre had he painted it.

All I have is a postcard of the Morisot portrait but in January 2 years ago I found it very handy to place in some small studies I was doing in the early mornings.  Here are three of them.

Still Life with Manet Postcard 8x8 inches

The Shanghai Cup 8x8 inches

Berthe and the Shanghai Cup 8x8 inches

Actually those 'before breakfast' paintings were wonderfully instructive.  I worked in acrylics on a very small scale - these two are only about 6x4 inches each.  This year I am hoping to use the remaining January mornings for something similar unless the call of the wild is too strong:

The First Primroses 6x4 inches

Pomegranate and Pinks 6.5x4.5 inches


  1. Tim. I love these!!! When is the Manet show running? I'd really like to get to that.

    You should do more still lifes as these are superb.

  2. Hi David - thanks for the encouragement! I think the Manet starts on 26 Jan and runs until near Easter at least. Probably impossible at this stage but one hopes that the crowds will thin eventually.