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The Harbour at Lorient is one of Berthe Morisot's most famous landscape paintings and was completed in 1869. It is owned by the National Gallery of Art Washington but is not always on display at that venue.
Edma Pontillon, Berthe's sister, was visited by the artist in 1869 at her home in Lorient. It was then that this painting across the harbour was executed. Edma herself also featured in The Cradle with her newborn daughter who arrived later. At the time of the painting displayed here, both sisters were active artists and would spend their time together painting en-plein-air. The choice of the landscape genre immediately connects Berthe with other members of the Impressionist movement, with many specialising in this type of content. She was skilled in creating scenes such as this but would later become more famous for her personal depictions of female life during this period.
At the time of this artwork Morisot was attempting to forge her own path and create a more independant selection of work. She experimented with light and colour, perhaps influenced by some of the work of Camille Pissarro at around this time. Her style was also becoming less rigid and more in tune with what was to become known as the Impressionist technique. The artist's friends gave the piece a great reception when she unveiled it, and it was soon put on display as part of the very first Impressionist exhibition. She would go on to enter work into most of the movement's exhibitions and establish herself as one of the major contributors to the group. Fellow painter Gustave Caillebotte helped out with financial assistance in order to ensure the continuation and promotion of this movement.
Edma and her sister were not only both artists, but also modelled for each other's work. Morisot wanted in this painting to produce such a stunning array of colours across the landscape that they viewer's eyes would not only focus on the figure in the foreground, which was an idea she learnt from Pissarro. She uses the reflection of water to help achieve this within this particular painting. Edma is not given too much detail, facially, but her outfit is bright and the overall atmosphere is positive. The two sisters would not have spent much time together recently because of their changes in circumstances, and so would have been delighted to spend time together during this extended visit.