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Women Too Painted in France


Professor Arnie Greenberg

Berthe Morisot

For a country that offered many wonderful painters during the late 1900s and the years that followed, a group of women painters seem to have taken a back seat. But they soon emerged and are worth studying.

This is not to say they were the only ones but a few women come to mind whose work is considered first class. They are Suzanne Valadon and Berthe Morisot.

Yes, there were others like Mary Cassatt, Camille Claudel, Sonia Delaunay and Marie Laurencin. But today I want to introduce you to my two favorites.

Born in 1841, the daughter of a civil servant and the grand niece of the painter Fragonard, Berthe Morisot, began studying and copying the old masters during the second half of the 19th century. She became a student of Corot. It was he who suggested that she paint out of doors.

Later she received more advice from Edouard Manet and in time she married Manet’s brother Eugene. They moved to Paris. Their home became a regular meeting place for both painters and writers. The group included Renoir and Malarme who became a close friend and admirer. Berth’s painting was mostly of women and children but she did paint out of doors with suggestions from Manet, her brother in law.

My first serious look at Berthe  Morisot’s works was at the Marmottin Museum in Paris where I was able to examine first hand some of the most sensuous and delicate work I had seen. Anyone interested in late 19th century work should visit the museum at their first opportunity. The aid of Eduard Manet is incalculable. He suggested a more conservative  approach  and the confining her use of color to a more natural framework. (It is interesting to note that at almost the same time, Paul Cezanne was also limiting his use of color which led to his great influence and success).Her lifetime outpouring includes over 300 paintings catalogued with an introductioin by Malarme. There is no doubting her great contribution to French impressionistic art especially using women and children as her theme. Her work is also delicate whether in her use of water colors or oils. The delicacy seems to jump off the paper.  She can be attached historically to the work of Mary Cassat the American artist whose theme was very close.

Berthe Morisot died in 1895.

The Musee Marmottan is located at 2 rie Louis-Boilly in Paris 16th arrondissement

Susan Valadon had more humble beginnings and went in a different direction. While she may be well known as the mother of Maurice Utrillo, her artistic output is well worth a deeper look.

She had worked as a laundress (her mother was an unmarried laundress), a dressmaker’s assistant and as a circus-acrobat and after an injury as a model for Degas, Renoir and Lautrec. But at eighteen she became a mother and was forced to find other work.  Encouraged by Degas and Lautrec, she turned to lithography and etching. By 1909 she turned more seriously to painting and became one of the best known women painters of her time. But her life was short and she died in 1938 after suffering a stroke. It was her ability to overcome gigantic obstacles of both class and gender. She disregarded convention and painted both beautiful and homely nudes from working class communities. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She worked for over ten years before she showed anyone her paintings.

Suzanne Valadon

When one looks closely at the portrait she did f musician Eric Satie it brings to mind the fact that as one who enjoyed frequenting bars. Satie met Susan at a nightclub where he played the piano. At the time he lived next door to Suzanne at 6 rue Carton. He proposed marriage to her the day they met. The then struggling musician was obsessed with Suzanne. Before they split up she did a portrait of Satie which was found in his apartment when he died.

In her lifetime she did marry but left her husband fifteen years later when she met and married a painter half her age.

Suzanne Valadon died in 1938 and was buried in the Cimetiere de Saint-Quen. At the funeral were countless painters. Among them were Andre Derain, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. One famous painting of her was done by Lautrec as the subject of The Hangover.

She painted still life, portraits, and landscapes using vibrant colors.

Her works can be seen at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Musee des Beaux Arts in Grenoble and in New York at the Metropolitan Museum.

Note: Her son Maurice was not aware of his father. He took the name Utrillo from a close friend of his mother, Miguel Utrillo y Morlius who owned an auberge.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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