UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Birthing the modern : modernity, maternity, and subjectivity in the art of Berthe Morisot Krogh, Schuyler


The category of “woman artist” has proven itself to be a perpetually troubling object for the history of French art in the late nineteenth century. Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) is an especially troubling figure within this category as an artist who declined public alignment with the category of “woman artist” during her lifetime but has nevertheless been repeatedly classified as such in later scholarship and curation, and whose paintings of domestic scenes have been dialectically opposed to scenes of modernity located in public space. My project addresses the problematics in this scholarship by analyzing Morisot’s work as inscribing specific conditions of modernity through her navigation of the categories of artist and woman. My project will specifically address her paintings of maternal scenes as the sites that most directly grapple with the intersections of modernity, gender, and the woman artist’s own subjectivity when confronted with the category of mother. The first section of the thesis addresses Morisot’s paintings of her elder sister Edma Pontillon (1839-1921) and her daughters from the early 1870s as sites of mediation and confrontation between the role of mother, as occupied by Edma, and artist, as occupied by Berthe. The second section addresses Morisot’s paintings of her daughter Julie Manet (1878-1966) and Julie’s wet nurse as sites of a complex series of deferrals of labour, with the intrusion of capital into the private sphere. Finally, Morisot’s paintings of Julie with her doll, with her father Eugène Manet (1833-1892), and with Morisot herself explore Morisot’s simultaneous occupation of the roles of mother and “woman artist.”

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