Julie Manet picking cherries
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Julie Manet picking cherries, 1891

Pastel on paper, H. 608 mm; W. 460 mm

Signed lower right: Berthe Morisot.

Provenance: André Hammel, Paris.
Private collection, France.

  • Marie-Louise Bataille & Georges Wildenstein, Berthe Morisot, Catalogue des peintures, pastels et aquarelles, Paris, 1961, no. 572 “Jeune fille cueillant des cerises”, fig. 566: exhibited 1896 no. 181; 1928 no. 5  1948, no. 54; “Exécuté d’après Julie Manet”.
  • Alain Clairet, “Le cerisier de Mézy”, L’Œil, May 1985, p. 48 to 51 (ill. p. 51).

Considered by the Impressionist painters to be their equal, Berthe Morisot participated in their exhibitions from 1874. She practiced pastel in parallel to painting, with so much ease that Philippe Burty compared her to the famous Rosalba Carriera.

After learning plein air painting with Camille Corot in the early 1860s, Berthe Morisot became friendly with Henri Fantin-Latour who introduced her to Edouard Manet. She then became his favourite model, embodying the young dark haired melancholic woman at the Balcony (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). In 1874, she married Manet’s younger brother Eugène, who was also a painter. Degas, who greatly admired Morisot’s art, especially her works on paper, invited her to show at the first Impressionist exhibition held in 1874 at Nadar’s studio. Considered by her colleagues to be their equal, Berthe Morisot participated in all of the Impressionist exhibitions, except in 1879, just after her daughter Julie was born.

Renoir, Friend and Artistic Influence

Berthe Morisot and Auguste Renoir met within the Impressionist group in 1874, but they became close after 1886 when she visited his studio for the first time. To distract her husband who was suffering from a serious illness, she began to organize weekly dinners the same year, in their apartment on the Rue de Villejust, to which Stéphane Mallarmé, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet were also invited.

In the abundant correspondence she exchanged from then on with Renoir, there is little artistic advice and few allusions to their techniques for creation. Perhaps the existence of Renoir’s artistic influence over Berthe Morisot has been emphasized too naturally for the second part of her career, but the idea of unilateral influence should be examined1. Being in fact the artist among the Impressionists to whom she felt closest, she also admired his talents as a draughtsman. These two principal Impressionist painters of the human figure doubtless shared formal concerns and they undeniably influenced each other. In addition, both show great interest in 18th century French artists, such as Fragonard, Watteau and Boucher. Like Renoir, Morisot practiced especially intimate painting, with portraits of her family outside or charming interior scenes.

Decorative Large Format Paintings

From 1885, Morisot showed a renewed interest in drawing2. Her manner evolved and presented stronger graphic accents. Like other Impressionists, such as Renoir, Cassatt and Monet, she then took up large scale decorative works with more complex compositions, based on an interaction between the figures, leading to numerous adjustments. For this she developed a new working method, creating multiple preparatory studies in charcoal, graphite, red chalk, watercolour and pastel. She could spend up to a year developing certain paintings.

The Development of The Cherry Tree

The Cherry Tree is without any doubt the most ambitious of these projects (Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet, see reproduction). From summer 1891 to winter 1893, Berthe Morisot devoted her time to this large composition that marked a return to the theme of picking fruit treated two years beforehand in Picking Oranges (1889, private collection)3. Like for this painting, she kept in mind Botticelli’s Spring. She showed her daughter Julie4, who was thirteen at the time, picking cherries from a ladder and her niece Jeannie Gobillard, seen from the back, holding out a basket for her. Berthe Morisot finished the painting later in Paris, using professional models.

Following the tradition of academic teaching, Berthe Morisot created multiple studies of the overall composition and details, using coloured chalks, sanguine and watercolour. Our work is one of the three pastels of The Cherry Tree. Morisot also made four oil on canvas paintings, including two large format compositions, one in a private collection and another, considered to be the final version, now in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.

The Context in which Le Cerisier was created at Mézy near Paris

The viewer cannot imagine that this happy fruit-picking was developed during a period of distress between the beginning of her husband’s illness and his death on 13 April 1892. Due to Eugène’s bad health, the couple rented the Blotière house at Mézy near Paris from April 1890. Morisot created her studio in a barn belonging to the property5. During the summer of 1891, she began the series of cherry trees in which she showed her daughter and her niece, Jeannie Gobillard, future wife of Paul Valéry. During August, “our friend Renoir” as she called him in her letters, his wife Aline Charigot and their son Pierre, visited them in Mézy. Renoir saw “the canvas with the cherry trees” in progress and encouraged Morisot to finish it in order to show it at the Salon on the Champ-de- Mars6. It was not shown until 1896 at the posthumous exhibition. According to Julie Manet’s Journal, her mother was especially fond of this painting which she considered to be the most finished. She confided in her daughter that “I was right not to sell it, I worked on it for so long, at Mézy, during the last year of your father’s life, I am attached to it and you’ll see that after I die, you will be very happy to have it.7” The painting remained in the family until the donation by the Fondation Denis et Annie Rouart to the Musée Marmottan in 1993.

Our pastel

Berthe Morisot especially appreciated pastel and watercolour. Her 190 pastels and 140 watercolours alone comprise almost half of her œuvre8. In a luminous and happy vision, she has shown Julie half-length, her arms reaching out towards a branch above her head. A red chalk study at the National Gallery of Art, Washington9 shows her in exactly the same position. Her face, mostly hidden behind her right arm, is visible in the final painting. Morisot was always interested in the rendering of atmosphere and shows the reflections of the sun through leaves. She succeeded in showing the accurate movement, full of life, of this slightly retracted and toned body, balanced on the ladder, delicately picking the summer fruit. Like the many studies made during the final period of her life, our pastel retains an unfinished character which makes it all the more attractive in our view. Berthe Morisot is exceptional for the confidence of her compositions and quality of drawing, without sacrificing any spontaneity. The lightness of her handling reinstates the feeling of an instant captured on the fly and often led to her being compared to Fragonard, her great great uncle.

  1. Jean-Dominique Rey, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 1982, p. 64. []
  2. Marianne Mathieu, “Aquarelles, pastels, dessins dans l’œuvre de Berthe Morisot”, exh. cat. Berthe Morisot 1841-1895, Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Institut de France, 2012, p. 34 and 36. []
  3. Exh. cat. Berthe Morisot 1841-1895, Lille, palais des Beaux-Arts, 10 March – 9 June 2002, Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, 20 June – 19 November 2002, p. 360, no. 115. []
  4. Julie Manet married the painter Ernest Rouart in 1900; they lived with the couple comprising her cousin Jeannie Gobillard and the poet Paul Valéry in the building erected on the Rue de Villejust (now Rue Paul Valéry) by Eugène Manet and Berthe Morisot. []
  5.  Marianne Mathieu, “Aquarelles, pastels, dessins dans l’œuvre de Berthe Morisot”, exh. cat.. Berthe Morisot 1841-1895, Paris, musée Marmottan Monet, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Institut de France, 2012, p. 43. []
  6. Correspondance Berthe Morisot, documents gathered and presented by Denis Rouart, Paris, 1950, p. 156, 160-161 and 163. []
  7. Julie Manet, Journal (1893-1899), edition established and introduced by Jean Griot, Paris, 1979, p 84. []
  8. Jean-Dominique Rey, Berthe Morisot, Paris, 2016, p. 155. The drawings have not yet been catalogued, as the book by Marie-Louise Bataille & Georges Wildenstein, Berthe Morisot, Catalogue des peintures, pastels et aquarelles, Paris, 1961, is limited to drawings connected to paintings. []
  9. Julie Picking Cherries, H. 745 mm; 505 mm, Washington, National Gallery of Art. []