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A Wonderful Novel “La Luministe” by Paula Butterfield

La Luministe is a historical fiction book about the ground-breaking female painter and 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.

To be a female painter 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.

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

Life for Women in the 19th Century

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

The art world was a man’s world. 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 Artist

Paula Butterfield’s novel tells a story of one female artist in Paris in the 19th century. Berthe Morisot was a talented painter from a very young age. She dreamed of being a professional artist. This was ground-breaking and against all social norms of that time.

Not only did she paint, but Morisot also painted in the impressionism style. Actually, Berthe 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. As a woman, she could not hang out in the Paris cafes together with her male artistic colleagues & discuss art.

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

La Luministe Novel Captures the Stories Behind the Impressionism Art Movement

Berthe 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 en 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.

La Luministe A novel about the life of Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot Painting – Woman and Child in the Garden

Even Morisot’s Modern Family Creates Obstacles for the Young Female Artist

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 exhibit 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 (and envious) 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

Morisot’s Complex Relationship with Edouard Manet

Paula Butterfield also weaves into her novel the close relationship between Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet. It is a fact that the two were very close throughout their adult lives. There is speculation that the two artists may have been intimately involved even though Manet was a married man. 

Butterfield chooses to present them having a passionate but forbidden love that continues throughout their respective lives.

Berthe Morisot Wants Independence! Not Marriage!

In the 19the century, marriage gave the woman financial security and respectability. However Berthe Morisot only wanted to paint and remain independent. Since she couldn’t have the one man that she loved, Morisot resisted marriage as long as she could. In the end, she agreed to marry the artist and younger brother of Edouard Manet, Eugene.

La Luministe A novel about the life of Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot Painting of Eugene Manet

Morisot was never passionate about Eugene, but she appreciated that he gave her complete artistic freedom and support. He was also a reliable & wonderful husband and father. This was something that Edouard could never be. In the end Morisot realized that she loved Eugene, just differently.

When Berthe Morisot died, she was buried in the same plot as the two Manet brothers in the Passy cemetery in Paris. This is so fitting as both Manets adored her and she loved them both as well.  

La Luministe – 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. Paula Butterfield writes beautifully about the trials and tribulations of the passionate, talented and intelligent Berthe Morisot.

Paula Butterfield gives Berthe Morisot the attention and recognition she rightfully deserves amongst the French Impressionists.

Enjoy this wonderful book & let me know what you think!

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