Paule Gobillard in the Ball Dress by Berthe Morisot - 1887 private collection Paule Gobillard in the Ball Dress by Berthe Morisot - 1887 private collection

Paule Gobillard in the Ball Dress

oil on canvas •
  • Berthe Morisot - January 14, 1841 - March 2, 1895 Berthe Morisot 1887

On the second day of Women's History Month, we feature the work of the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, who was extremely bold in her work. When we look at her paintings, we can see how extreme she could be in following the Impressionist ideas of depicting the world as it's seen subjectively, not how it should be depicted objectively. Some parts of her works are purely abstract. Today is the 126th anniversary of her death.

Look how this portrait is painted. We see thousands of loose, but at the same time controlled, brushstrokes thrown on the canvas slightly randomly, which gives us the feeling of liveliness and spontaneity. At the same time, they seem to convey the mood of the young sitting lady; clearly, she is excited by the perspective of the upcoming ball. Maybe it's her first one? Maybe some enamored chevalier is waiting for her there? 

Paule Gobillard (1867–1946) was Berthe Morisot’s niece, being the eldest of three children of Théodore Gobillard and Yves Morisot (Berthe’s sister). Paule and her two siblings moved in with Berthe after their mother’s death in 1893, living alongside their cousin Julie Manet, Berthe’s daughter with Eugène Manet, brother of Édouard Manet. Raised in this bustling artistic environment, Paule Gobillard, like her sister Jeannie and her cousin Julie, aspired to become a painter herself, very much influenced and encouraged by Berthe Morisot. The latter obtained permission for Paule to have supervised sessions to copy paintings at the Louvre museum in June 1886 and arranged for her to attend Henri Gervex’s classes at the Académie Valentino. Whilst her sister and cousin respectively married the writer Paul Valéry (1871–1945) and the painter Ernest Rouart (1874–1942), son of the engineer, collector and painter Henri Rouart (1833–1912), Paule never married. She dedicated her life to painting, regularly exhibiting her works at the Salon des Indépendants from 1894 to 1912, and at the Salon d’Automne until her death in 1946.

By the time Morisot painted this portrait in 1887, she had already established herself as one of Impressionism’s key figures. As the only female painter to exhibit her work at the First Exhibition of Impressionist Painters in 1874, Morisot took part in all the Impressionist group shows until the last one in 1886 (except in 1879, having given birth to her daughter Julie in 1878).

If you would like to learn more about Morisot's meaning to the history of Impressionism, please check our Mega Course on French Impressionism.

P.S. Here's one of my favorite paintings by Morisot, Woman at Her Toilette, a real gem, check it out!