Child in a Red Apron (L’Enfant au tablier rouge)
Berthe Morisot, French, Child in a Red Apron (L’Enfant au tablier rouge), 1886, Oil on canvas; 60 x 49.9 cm (23 5/8 x 19 5/8 inches) not including frame, Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2010.57
This painting depicts Julie Manet, the seven-year-old daughter of the artist Berthe Morisot and her husband, Eugène Manet. She peers at a wintry landscape outside the family’s home in Paris, perhaps holding a prism to her eyes. The setting was Morisot’s bedroom, distinguished by a window whose small panes function as a compositional device that connects interior to exterior space. Across the canvas, a fluid net of slashing and spiraling marks rush through the room and animate Julie’s costume and pose. The vertical glint of a brass knob suggests that the window is ajar, introducing a breeze that lifts the ties of the child’s red apron and causes the curtains to flutter behind her.
Owned by the artist’s descendants for more than a century, this is the first painting by Morisot to enter the RISD Museum’s collection. It represents the work of one of the primary members of the group of Impressionist painters, whose technical and representational inventions transformed the appearance of painting in the late 19th century. Morisot was a close friend of Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir and the sister-in-law of Édouard Manet, whose portrayal of her in a painting titled Repose is on view in the adjacent gallery. Individual in their styles, each of the Impressionists explored the use of broken brushstrokes and flattened spatial relationships and all were preoccupied with themes of modern life.
Morisot built her images slowly and preferred to begin directly on a white surface, frequently leaving parts of the background bare. She often skipped the stages of preliminary drawing and instead used color to deliver the effect of line. Whether working in pastel, watercolor, or oil, she sought the same effects of gesture, transparency, and blur. In this seemingly sketch-like impression, what appear to be hastily placed marks are elements of a selective process intended to capture movement and light. A domestic space, a mesmerized child, and a snowy Parisian landscape all emerge from Morisot’s strategic web of animated and abbreviated strokes.