Cindy Kang, Associate Curator, The Barnes Foundation
We sat down (virtually!) with the inspiring Cindy Kang, Associate Curator at The Barnes Foundation and responsible for managing the presentation of Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist exhibition at the Barnes Foundation which toured in 4 venues in 3 different countries. This interview was conducted in celebration of Berthe Morisot's birthday.
Why is Berthe Morisot such an important figure within the art world?
Morisot was at the heart of a key moment in modern western art – the formation of a radical group of artists that came to be known as the Impressionists. She played an essential role in pushing art to address contemporary life, and in rethinking how artists exhibited their work and could establish their careers outside official structures and systems.
Berthe Morisot, Self-Portrait, 1885
How would you define her technique?
Morisot took risks with her painting, pushing the Impressionist technique of loose brushwork to its limits. I find it breathtaking to see such broadly brushed compositions that teeter on the edge of formlessness but ultimately coalesce into vibrant yet elegantly restrained images of daily life.
Berthe Morisot. In England (Eugene Manet on the Isle of Wight), 1875
Do you think Berthe Morisot pushed the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable as a woman and artist during her time?
Morisot certainly pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable of someone of her background. To pursue a career as a professional artist rather than remaining an amateur painter as an upper-middle-class woman was highly unusual. And while she exhibited at the Salon in the beginning of her career, her choice to abandon official routes and join an artists’ cooperative whose structure was based on the charter of the bakers’ union was extremely risky and demonstrates her fiercely independent spirit.
Would you characterize Berthe Morisot as a feminist artist?
Morisot did not join women’s groups or publicly speak out about the challenges of establishing an artistic career as a woman, although she reflected on this issue privately. However, her work is essentially about women’s lives and valuing the daily routines and rhythms of contemporary women as a significant subject for modern art. And her life and career are an argument in themselves for women’s equality.
Berthe Morisot. Reading (The green umbrella), 1873
Despite her major contributions to the art world, Berthe Morisot continues to remain relatively unknown in comparison to her male counterparts (Monet, Manet, Degas..) what are some of the things we can do in our time to bring recognition to artists like her?
We can continue to exhibit her work, as we did in the major monographic show, Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist, that toured to 4 venues in 3 different countries; and we can continue to routinely include her in histories of Impressionism and acknowledge her influence on other artists. The recent Manet and Modern Beauty show, for example, recognized Morisot’s impact on Manet’s later work.
From left to right:Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation; Cindy Kang, Associate Curator of the Barnes Foundation; Nicky Myers of the Dallas Museum of Art (co-curator of Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist); Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney; Joseph Neubauer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Barnes Foundation; and Sylvie Patry of the Musee d’Orsay (co-curator of Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist), in Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist exhibition at the Barnes Foundation, 2018. Photo by Darryl Moran Photography
What is your favourite Berthe Morisot quote? Why this quote?
“I don’t think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal, and that’s all I would have asked for—I know I am worth as much as they are.”
Morisot wrote this statement in her diary in 1890, after the Impressionists had disbanded and she was nearing 50 years old. It speaks to her understanding of her own talent and role in the development of modern art, but also her awareness of how her gender affected external recognition of that role. It’s sobering to see how much this statement still resonates with us today.
Berthe Morisot. Portrait of Miss Julie Manet (Julie dreaming), 1894
And lastly, if we were to remember three short/important facts about Berthe Morisot, what would those be?
- She was a founding member of the Impressionist group.
- Her work focused on the lives of women and girls, especially her daughter Julie.
- She painted largely in her home rather than a separate studio, making art the center of her home life, and her home life the center of her art.