The Art and Opinions of Heidi Celeghin, Aesthete

Fashion in Morisot’s On The Balcony


Note: This is the first of a few posts on Berthe Morisot’s painting On the Balcony. I believe that art history is just as important as the creation of art and would like my blog to include the occasional art history post. This was originally posted on my official blog.


 As a woman, Berthe Morisot was denied the possibilities of painting every facet of Parisian social life and consequently, painted the sheltered world of the upper-class lady.i  Morisot’s paintings of women and children in French suburbs illustrate her conformity to the social expectations of women at the time in that they propagate the image of respectable women, a haute bourgeois lifestyle, and women’s primary role as mothers.  These domestic subjects seem to veer away from modernity and therefore, Morisot capitalizes on Baudelaire’s equation of la vie moderne with fashion by employing women’s fashion to evoke modernity.  Morisot’s work shares many similarities with fashion illustrations of the nineteenth century including composition, background, the interplay of patterns on a flat surface, and the focus on upper-class, suburban domestic life.  The 1871-72 oil painting On the Balconywhich illustrates a haute bourgeois woman with a child, stands as an example of Morisot’s extensive appropriation of the aforementioned aspects of the fashion plate as a symbol for modern life, a rebuff of past artistic traditions, and a conformity to the social norms set on nineteenth-century women.


Morisot’s paintings of women in suburbs, as seen in On the Balcony, exemplify modernity’s fleeting and ephemeral nature.  Morisot lived and painted in the suburb of Passy which was removed from Paris, the city that was to be considered the center of modern life in nineteenth-century France.ii  On the Balcony depicts Passy, for Morisot painted it in her home in the Rue Franklin.iii  Baudelaire wrote that the artist had to portray modern life and Morisot chose primarily to portray modernity through fashion.  Morisot’s paintings represent the “ebb and flow”, as described by Baudelaire, of the lives of women and children in the suburbs.iv

Not only does Morisot illustrate the transience of modernity through the setting ofOn the Balcony, but also through the clothing of the figures.  The woman’s dress inOn the Balcony is fashionable and upper class, but is also suitable for domestic life.  With industrialization and the mass production of clothing, social divisions began to blur because poorer people were able to purchase fashionable dresses made of less expensive materials.  This situation in fashion, known as the “trickle-down” theory,v was an integral part of modern life and was explored by several Impressionists including Claude Monet in his painting Women in the Garden.  Both Monet and Morisot paint fashion in order to convey an impression of change and flux because fashion, like modernity, changes constantly.  By painting his companion and model Camille Doncieux wearing fashionable dresses in Women in the Garden, Monet underlines the new role of industrialization in the fashion industry.  He paints a poorer social stratum but, referencing the trickle-down theory, still illustrates fashionable dresses.  Though Morisot tended to paint fairly wealthy women, the woman in On the Balcony is socially unidentifiable.  Her clothes appear to be sumptuous but, due to Morisot’s indistinct brushstrokes, they could easily be clothes made for lower class women.


i.  Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity,” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff, 1st ed. (New York: Routledge, 1998), 79-81.

ii.  Teri J. Edelstein, “Introduction,” in Perspectives on Morisot, ed. Teri J. Edelstein (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990), 33.

iii.  Kathleen Adler, “The Spaces of Everyday Life: Berthe Morisot and Passy,” inPerspectives on Morisot, ed. Teri J. Edelstein (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990), 40.

iv.  Adler, 38.

v.  Anne Schirrmeister, “La Dernière Mode: Berthe Morisot and Costume,” in Perspectives on Morisot, ed. Teri J. Edelstein (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990), 104.


Author: Heidi Celeghin

ARTIST’S STATEMENT The theories guiding my art practice are largely defined by my academic background in Decadence and Aestheticism. I am concerned with the status of the image: seductive, unknowable, dangerous, and immortal. The image exists in a liminal space between illusion and reality, lies and truths, life and death. As such, the image represents the sublime. Once created, the image exists beyond the artist – it grows independently from the artist and is constantly being recreated. On the one hand, it captures a single, exquisite moment in time and therefore holds the valence of stasis and death. On the other hand, the image’s perpetual recreation means that it captures the myriad of experiences Walter Pater discusses in the conclusion to The Renaissance and therefore, it holds the valence of metamorphosis and life. It is particularly fascinating when the distinction between Art and reality begin to fall apart. Is it Art that imitates life or life that imitates Art? Major Events and Public Projects: Houston Zoo, painting-for-conservation initiative (June 2011-present) Barcelona World Race, Team Neutrogena artist (December 2010-May 2011) Select Exhibitions: Singapore via INSTINC artist residency, solo exhibition (June 2012) Limb Design, Houston, Texas, group exhibition (April 2012) Jack Hanna Gala, Houston Zoo, solo exhibit (October 2011) Watson Gallery, Houston, Texas, group exhibit (October 2011) Norma R. Ory Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, group exhibit (2011) Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Houston, Texas, Awty International Gala (2011) Willard Straight Art Gallery, group exhibit for Forword Literary Magazine (2009) Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, group exhibit (2009) Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, group exhibit (2008) Hayloft Gallery, Reliant Center, Houston, Texas, group exhibit (2006) Hayloft Gallery, Reliant Center, Houston, Texas, group exhibit (2005) Art Fairs: Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong (2013) Affordable Art Fair, Singapore (2012) Affordable Art Fair, New York (2012)

2 thoughts on “Fashion in Morisot’s On The Balcony

  1. Pingback: Fashion in Morisot’s On The Balcony, Part II | Neo-Decadent

  2. Pingback: Fashion in Morisot’s On The Balcony, Part III | Neo-Decadent

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s