Reading Berthe Morisot Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Reading is one of several paintings by Berthe Morisot which carried the same title. This memorable artwork was completed in 1873 and resides today within The Metropolitan Museum of Art which is based in New York, USA.

The composition perfectly captures life in the late 19th century for the French middle classes. We find a young woman relaxing in a park or large garden, sat on the grass whilst enthralled with a thick book that she slowly navigates through. No other figures are included so that we can focus entirely on this woman, and this also helps to produce a mood of relaxation and privacy. No men are bothering this young woman, and any duties she might have are far from her mind as she enjoys leisure time which was still something of a novelty for many at that time. Her dress spreads out to cover most of her body, almost as if she is resting under a duvet. She has a beautiful fan and a small bat either side of her which add interest to the painting, and then a small cloth is laid out to avoid her sitting directly on the grass itself. Morisot would have carefully placed the fan in order to angle it in a manner which exposed as much of its surface to the viewer as possible.

A small path winds around from the right hand side, with the landscape opening up just at the top of the painting. Whilst Morisot worked in both parks and private gardens, this appears most likely to have been in the former because of how the landscape is relatively plain and open. Most gardens at that time would have been filled with bright flowers for much of the year and here we find a very different style of landscaping which feels more akin to a local park. There also appears to be a wagon to the right hand side, travelling across the small path. The details on this model's dress are carefully chosen, with a white hat which features a green flourish. There is also a black ribbon around her neck plus a further dark item that hangs around her chest.

Morisot's paintings captured the lives of women in the late 19th century in a manner which many today find incredibly charming. Whilst some would reflect on the duties imposed upon women at that time, some others would focus on their leisure time and how they might enjoy it. Naturally, there were many in society who could not afford periods of relaxation such as this, but it was clear that over time, more and more people were starting to at least get some sort of break from their daily grind. Reading within art not only allows an artist to focus on leisure activities, but it also brings a mood of calm into the artwork straight away. The late 19th century also did not have many of the technologies that we enjoy today, meaning reading was an essential tool in everyday life. See also Reading, 1888.