La Luministe by Paula Butterfield

To be a female impressionist or any kind of artist in the 21st century is no big deal. Today society admires and celebrates women writers, painters, photographers and actresses. However it was a totally different story in the 19th century.

La Luministe is a historical fiction book about the ground-breaking female impressionist, Berthe Morisot. The author Paula Butterfield, describes in her novel what it was like to be a female artist during the emergence of the impressionism art movement.

At the Beach - Berthe Morisot Painting
At the Beach – Berthe Morisot Painting

19th Century Europe for Women

Women in the 19th century were not allowed to pursue paying occupations. They were expected to marry and raise a family.

The art world was a man’s world ONLY. The prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts did not accept talented female students at all.

However, amongst the wealthy French, young girls who wanted to paint were allowed. Providing private painting lessons was thought to boost their marriage prospects. Of course after marriage, painting was expected to stop!

Berthe Morisot a Pioneering Female Impressionist

Paula Butterfield’s novel tells a story of one female impressionist in Paris in the 19th century. Berthe Morisot was a talented painter. She also wanted a career in painting. This was ground-breaking and against all social norms of that time.

Not only did she paint, but she also painted in the impressionism style. Actually, Morisot was fighting three hurdles, far more than her male impressionist counterparts. She was fighting against the obstacles of being a female, wanting a painting career and pursuing her art with the revolutionary Impressionists!

Berthe Morisot was lucky to grow up in Paris, the artistic epicenter of Europe. However despite her talent, passion, financial security and independent spirit, she was NEVER equal to her male peers.

Female Impressionist, Berthe Morisot painting - In the Wheatfields
Female Impressionist Painter – Berthe Morisot – In the wheatfields

The Novel Captures the Stories Behind the Impressionism Art Movement

Morisot, together with the other impressionism painters, explore the idea of light and its effects on the subject matter. Although obvious to us in the 21st century, this concept was ground-breaking then.

As Butterfield describes, the Masters like Goya and Titian painted indoors in their studios. However, the impressionist painters painted plein air (outdoors). They set up their easels in the countryside, seaside promenades or in the blooming gardens capturing what they saw and the effects of the light around them.

Morisot and the impressionists painted with bright and lively colors. Their brush strokes were short and thick. This way of painting captured the essence of the subject rather than the fine details. Of course the art critics hated this unrefined style. They rejected the impressionists outright and for a very long time.

Berthe Morisot chose this revolutionary art form over the classical-realism art of the time. This provided an additional hurdle for her. But Morisot persisted nonetheless with the impressionists.

Berthe Morisot Painting - Women and Children in the Garden
Berthe Morisot Painting – Woman and Child in the Garden

Morisot’s Problematic Relationship with Edouard Manet

Paula Butterfield also weaves into her novel the complex relationship between Morisot and Edouard Manet. They admired eachother’s painting and influenced one another. Inspired by Morisot, Manet began painting outdoors, with a light and colorful palette and using feathery strokes.

Morisot modeled for Manet for many of his paintings over the years. Like so many others, Morisot falls for him but he is a married man. She eventually marries his brother, Eugene Manet which adds another interesting dimension to her story.

Berthe Morisot Wants Independence! Not Marriage!

In the 19the century, marriage gave the woman financial security and respectability. However Morisot only wanted to paint and remain independent. She resisted marriage as long as possible. In the end she agreed to marry the painter and younger brother of Edouard Manet, Eugene.

Berthe Morisot Painting of Eugene Manet
Berthe Morisot Painting of Eugene Manet

Morisot’s Family Cause Obstacles for the Female Impressionist

Edgar Degas invites Morisot to join an independent artists’ cooperative. However her family does not like the idea as it would reflect badly upon the Morisot family. It was only after her father’s death, that she is able to join the Impressionists and exhibited together with them.

Berthe Morisot’s determination to paint causes constant strain between her and her family. Her older sister Edma was also very artistic. However, Edma gave up painting as expected of her. She married and had a family.

Edma was critical of Berthe’s insistence to paint. She also criticized Berthe’s unseemly closeness to the married Edouard Manet. Throughout the book, we see how Berthe Morisot needs to fight for her right to paint even with her own ‘progressive’ family.

Berthe Morisot Painting - Red Hair Girl
Berthe Morisot Painting

A Great Art Historical Fiction Book For Impressionism Fans!

If you are a fan of the impressionists, the novel La Luministe will transport you into the art world of 19th century Paris. The author writes beautifully about the trials and tribulations of the impressive, passionate, talented and intelligent Berthe Morisot.

The books is a reminder of how far we have come since the 19th century. It also gives Berthe Morisot the attention and recognition she finally deserves.

Enjoy this great read!

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La Luministe book cover

La Luministe – a novel about one female impressionist

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